When I was a young, active alcoholic it was my obsession, whether I was drunk or not, to interpret the ordinary as the profound. This was an easy intellectual exercise for a drunk, and doing so made me the creator of endless epiphanies that, despite my frequent dissemination of them in the bars to anyone within earshot, were significant only to me.
A lot of my material came from advice I got from my dad (I adored him) when we drank scotch together. I hung on the words he uttered as if they were his last. Perhaps parts of what he said might have been profound. He was an intelligent, thoughtful man. But the things I fixated on were quite ordinary. A lot of the things he told me became my mantras during my drinking years. I went to him because I was having a great deal of trouble letting go of some emotional event and he said, quite seriously:
“Erase it from your mind.”
Ironically, whatever I shared with him that inspired him to say those words is collected in that ever-expanding universe that contains everything that I forget.
The alcoholic me latched on to the magical qualities in what he said. From now on, this was how I dealt with disappointments and kept traumatic events repressed. This, with a chaser, was how I ignored the possibility of HD being a part of me. But then I stumbled into sobriety.
When I got sober more than twenty years ago, I had to deal with some of the things that I had repressed. Life was very hard in early sobriety until I accepted that it was OK for my ideas to be ordinary and that they were, in fact, ordinary thoughts to begin with. I learned to avoid magical thinking.
For the past six years, I have known that I have HD. When I am in a place of gratitude, I elevate the ordinariness of being able to function in any capacity to a higher level that, intellectually, I value more than I used to.
I can hold down a job.
I can maintain relationships.
I can swallow food.
I don’t wet the bed every night.
Enlightened by HD, I view these activities as far more than mundane.
And the sublime?
I listened to Itzhak Perlman play the “Theme from Schindler’s List” the other day and I believe that my spirit will be transfixed in this elevated place until I forget that I heard it. Could having HD can make such enormous beauty more impossible not to succumb to?
Anyway, my dad ended up having a stroke that decimated his short term memory. We were forced to have the same, simple conversation every five minutes for what I thought was too many years. What I didn’t know was that kidney failure would finally claim my father and the toxicity of that disease makes people say strange things.
I stood at the foot of his death bed four years ago this fall. I was still struggling with my diagnosis and I was losing my dad. Some of the final words he said were directed at me. He said:
“Be sad or be glad.”
Given our history, and given my history, how could I not make this my mantra? It is a simple choice that I remind myself I have when I sense that HD is overshadowing everything.
And I will always regard his words as quite profound.