Dancing through life? hmmmmm…

It’s funny, but it’s rare that I’ve been referred to as “lithe” or “graceful.”  In fact, when I was traveling with a choir the summer of 1988, I would frequently trip a bit as I was exiting the bus, enough that one of our senior group members jokingly told me he’d “just call me ‘Grace.’”  I think this was why so many were shocked when I did well in our area Junior Miss program in high school.  (I had good grades, I could sing, and I could speak well – but dance well? …not really.)  I suppose this all took a bit of the sting out of the loss of coordination brought on by MS, starting 1997.

In college, my friend Angela and I found that we often had uncommon similarities, uncanny coincidences.  We not only shared a middle name, but one of our brothers shared a name.  And in 1996, we both received the same book by our brothers who shared a name.  (Brother = Chris, book = The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.)  So it was that the following year, we were both in graduate school, living on different sides of the state.  I was on campus for much of the time each week, and she and I enjoyed exchanging emails and keeping up with one another.  Then one day in November, we discovered that our uncanny coincidences had not come to an end.  I shared with Angela how my “gracefulness” had played itself out when I stepped off of a curb on campus, and I twisted my ankle – not quite a sprain, but painful and annoying nonetheless.  And you know what?  Within twenty minutes of when I twisted my own ankle, she had done the same thing.  Same ankle, same scenario.  I had been diagnosed with MS a few months prior, but I didn’t blame that – my “gracefulness” was something I was used to, and I wondered if my own luck had floated from Ball State to Purdue, across the “Angela bond.”

We both now have twin girls now (really!), but our lives have brought different “invisible issues” our ways.  My M.S. story is one I share of here from time to time, and her story is hers, so I shall leave it at that… but I do have to share an online exchange we had a few weeks ago.  She had made a comment that morning on Facebook about her daughter’s exclamation to the sun, hidden behind the clouds.  Well, once the sun became visible here – a state away from her present home – I had to wish Angela sunshine like the bit we had here in Indiana.  And the connection reappeared, as Angela had sent a response as the same time, mine appearing as she hit <send.>  As I asked how her ankle was feeling (the one twisted twelve years ago), Angela shared a thought that brought both tears and smiles: *laughing* It’s good. If I’ve learned anything from you, Angie, it’s that problems walking needn’t stop a person from dancing through life. : )

Dancing through life?  I’m currently in physical therapy – “gait training,” to be exact.  My daughter chuckled and wanted to know if I’d learn to canter… but really, I’m working on walking without falling.  I don’t feel like I’m dancing through life, so how has this been a lesson I’ve taught?  My friend Angela is beautiful, talented, has a wit and a way with words to which I can only aspire… and a dancer I’ve never been.  This goes back to that “teacher” part of me, though.  As I’ve mentioned before, I went to college to become a teacher – have a classroom, follow a curriculum, and have a place where my students could learn not just the textbook lessons, but lessons about life and love and growing up and all of that.  Then came a turn in the road (or twenty turns, or a cliff, or something of that sort).  But the thing is that I am still a teacher, it seems – just not following a standard textbook.

So I suppose we can do what my friend suggested back in 1988, “Just call me ‘Grace.’”  It is only through the Grace of our Lord that I am here and walking (though I avoid curbs), and even more so that I am anybody’s dance instructor.  This makes me ponder: what am I teaching those around me?  What OUGHT I be teaching?  And we can each ask ourselves the same thing, I think, as we live and laugh and love and teach and learn and ponder and pray.  And dance.

About Awareness

The following was in the “letter to the editor”section of the Marion Chronicle-Tribune today, March 12.  They changed a little bit of my wording and punctuation, so here you can see what I wrote.  🙂

About Awareness

Until thirteen or so years ago, I knew very little about the disease called multiple sclerosis. Referred to as MS, I confused it with muscular dystrophy, the debilitating illness with research funded in part by the annual Jerry Lewis telethon. But this was before May 1997, when eye problems led me to a doctor who led me to an MRI machine… and scars were visible in my brain. When I was given the diagnosis of MS, I quickly became aware of what that meant, and what it could come to mean.

MS has its name because of what it is, though not immediately visible. “Multiple” = more than one, while “sclerosis” = scars or lesions. Where? Here is the tricky part… on myelin, the coating of the nerves, most predominantly in the brain. And what causes this? Good question. The immune system, which is supposed to attack nasty things, attacks parts of this nerve coating instead. When? Well, MS most commonly has an onset starting when individuals are in the 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s, but on occasion it can strike earlier or later.

What in the world does MS do? I like to answer this with an analogy, one that can be best understood by those of us who live in Grant County. Upland is widely recognized as the home of Ivanhoe’s, known for its 100+ types of shakes and sundaes. Just looking at the menu is overwhelming – no two shakes are alike. One has all types of nuts, candy and cookie pieces inside, while the “vanilla acappella” is a nice, smooth vanilla shake. And that’s it. So it is for a person with MS. Many scars, at different points in the brain, can affect such things as energy, mobility, heat sensitivity, speech, memory, mood… or the brain is so vast that it may not have any noticeable affects at all. Ivanhoe’s doesn’t do this, but MS is more like a shake you didn’t order, where the size can be changed and ingredients can be added. They likely won’t be ingredients you like, either. “Predictable” is not a word that is ever used to describe MS, as unexpected symptoms can strike at unexpected times.

March 8-14, 2010 is MS Awareness Week, and though not a day goes by that I’m not aware of this chronic illness, this week allows me to put on my “teacher” hat and let readers know about this also. More than 250,000 people deal with MS in our country, more than 50 in the greater Marion area, and more medications and therapies are being found… but there isn’t a cure. Yet. In the meantime, know that your neighbors, struggling with MS, are facing daily challenges, ones you may not be able to see. And next time you visit Ivanhoe’s, imagine life with the struggles and unpredictability of MS – but enjoy whatever you *choose* to order.

Angie Knight lives with her family in Upland and is the leader of the Marion MS Support Group

Confinement of truly unnecessarily opalescent lasagna

          or “what we learn from our mistakes” … or “those durn spelling bees!”

Last week, our daughters got to take part in the exciting fifth grade event of the spring: the school spelling bee.  With many students competing, several of them older than Rachel and Emily, our expectations weren’t too high, but we hoped they would have a good experience.  It’s funny the memories that a spelling bee can stir up… you know, I remember the words I missed on a stage (cinnamon and ancient), but the words I answered correctly don’t immediately come to mind.  This created a fun little discussion on Facebook, where word-geeks like myself left fun little notes about the words they missed many years ago.  I asked the girls the next day, and they, too, couldn’t spell opalescent, lasagna, effervescible or truly.  (In the spelling bee, Rach missed “confinement,” though when she spelled it later, she knew it should have had a silent E, and Em missed “unnecessarily,” as the six syllables were just too much for her head to keep track of… but hers was also the only six-syllable word used, if that was any consolation.)

Two years ago, as I was helping the girls study for a spelling test, I wrote a fun blog vignette that I’ll repost here (since the old blog site was deleted, I’ll just share those here periodically).

Cinnamon (not cinimin)

Which of life’s lessons do you remember best?  For me, I know that the test questions I remember aren’t usually the ones I get correct, but the ones I miss.  One particular lesson is one I recall whenever I look in the spice cabinet or help my daughters study for a spelling test.  I remember the school spelling bee when I was in fifth grade, and I was one of the final three spellers on stage.  I don’t recall the words that had led up to that point, as I had obviously known how to spell those, or at least I guessed correctly.  But then came a word I didn’t remember – I knew I had seen it, I loved it with sugar and butter on toast, but spelling… I took a stab.  C-I-N…..I-M-I-N  ??  Nope.  As I learned quite quickly, when the following student was correct, what I needed was C-I-N-N-A-M-O-N.  And I haven’t had a hard time spelling cinnamon since that day.

Life contains all kinds of spice, much more than cinnamon, but it’s not always what we would choose, is it?  Even if we can spell life’s lessons, they can still be hard to experience.  A car accident, an unexpected illness, a death in the family… even struggles we’ve gotten used to can still be just that – struggles.  But why are they there?  Maybe it’s so we can learn to comfort, to depend, to understand, to demonstrate what it means to experience defeat gracefully.  It is tempting to ask God, “Why me?” when difficulties strike, but what can we learn by simply asking God to show us how this can be used …used to comfort, to teach, to do something we may never realize.

You know, I went to college to become a teacher.  My error was that I thought this meant I would have a classroom, a place where I would present lessons to students in creative, engaging ways at particular times on set days.  For three years, I was able to teach within this definition, but after we moved to this area, I had a little change in course.  To make a long story short, I am still a teacher, but often, the lesson is this thing called “life.”  There isn’t a college degree in life, and it’s not always spelled the same way, but it can teach, whether we want it to or not.  We each have our own spelling bees, and my hope for each of us is that when we miss our own “cinnamon,” we’ll remember how to spell it next time it comes our way.  And maybe we can even give others a spelling lesson in the process.