I’d prepared myself as much as I could before leaving London for Boston. I was so happy my film was an official selection in the Boston Film Festival. And yet, it doesn’t feel right to use the word ‘excited’ to describe my feelings about my film, the story of the journey I’ve taken since my son died. There is really no appropriate word for this experience. It felt great to finish the film. And it was a huge honor to show it to the public. But like everything these days, it evoked both happy and sad feelings.
On the way to Boston, I went to visit a girlfriend and her husband who live about an hour north of the city. We’ve reconnected in the last year or two after many years of having been out of touch. We met in Boston a long time ago. Then my son was barely an adolescent. She was single. My son grew up. And my friend got married. These were the things we expected in our life journeys. But twenty years later things are not what either of us thought they would be.
My friend has been married for 15 years. Last time I saw she and her husband they were having a wonderful life together. And so was I. But then tragedy struck. He has a rare form of something like MS that has almost completely paralyzed him, and all in just the last two years. This very fast and furious disease will never go into remission. It has left him with only the use of his left hand. For a classical and jazz guitarist, and writer, this fate must seem like some diabolic irony. We talked about it – how it doesn’t seem so random that the things or people we love the most are taken away from us, or from some of us.
I spent two days with my friends. My heart ached for them as I’m sure theirs did for me. Their lives have been pared down to the most basic level. Two once happy people are struggling to find any light carrying their individual burdens. The future they once saw has disappeared and they live very much in survival mode, each dependent on the other. He, on her for mobility and the basic necessities of life. She on him as he is now the primary bread-winner. She can’t leave the house to go out to work. I was blown away by each of their dedication! I don’t know that I could handle either of their lives. And what is truly amazing and inspiring is that he has written two or three books by using speech recognition software. But now he is slowly losing his voice. What then?
People do what they have to do, live with what they have. Some do it so much more elegantly than others. My friend’s husband so inspires me. I know he is miserable in his new body. How could he not be? But most of his time is spent in action, doing the only thing he can do. He writes. And my friend, what choice does she have? She cares for him. And they do have their happy moments. It reminds me of Shel Silverstein’s children’s story when he asks the zebra – “Are you black with white stripes? Or white with black stripes?” Are we sad with happy moments? Or happy with sad moments? I am not sure we have much choice in our realities, the traumas and tragedies we suffer in our journey through life. But perhaps we have a choice in feelings and actions we focus on.
On the way to somewhere else, a traumatic and life changing event happened to me. The same, but different thing happened to both my friend and her husband. Our lives now are so different from the lives we were living and expected to continue living. Yet more proof that we are built for survival. A heartbreaking reminder that our paths most often have detours that require us to use our innate navigational skills and to rely on the wisdom of fellow travelers we meet on this journey called life. On the way to Boston I met some of those travelers, and their experiences have helped me to focus more of my happy moments.