By Marc Sherman, J.D.
“We have two lives ... the life we learn with and the life we live after that. Suffering is what brings us towards happiness.”
~ Bernard Malamud, The Natural
I loved that quote, from the moment that I heard it in the movie, The Natural, and later when I read it in Bernard Malamud’s classic novel upon which the film was based. I may have loved the quote but I do not think that I fully understood it until I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
In 2005 at the age of 48, I started to have trouble with my penmanship. I am not claiming that my penmanship was ever good — it wasn’t — but in 2005 it started to shrink. I later learned that there was a name for this: “micrographia.” I guess that there is a name for almost everything.
Over the next year, I began to experience additional symptoms that I later learned were linked to Parkinson’s disease. It took five doctors to determine this; hence my nickname for them, “The Marx Doctors.”
When I was finally diagnosed in April of 2006, I fell into a depression, and remained there until I finally realized that it was a waste of time. I decided I could wake up tomorrow either depressed with Parkinson’s, or in a good mood with Parkinson’s. The disease was the constant in the equation. I realized, why not change the mood?
So I started to write. The writing was done mostly for me, not for anyone else. I never knew that I had any talent. What I did know is that I have a good sense of humor and have always loved the great American humorists — people like Robert Benchley, James Thurber, Mark Twain and Dorothy Parker. I found writing to be a wonderful therapy.
Around the same time, I was accepted as a member of the People with Parkinson’s Advisory Council (PPAC) of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Through PPAC, I have met some wonderful, dynamic people who have become my colleagues, my friends and my teachers.
Eventually, my writing was “discovered” by a satirical publication. The stories that I have contributed to this publication, under the pen name, “Jello Marx” — and the response I have received from readers — have given me great enjoyment. As “Jello,” I was teaching Marc how to enjoy life.
Okay, so how does all this tie into Malamud’s quote? Up until the date I made my realization — that PD would be constant no matter how I chose to live — I was living in what Malamud would refer to as the “life I learned with.” I was very often not participating on the stage, but instead viewing the action from “the cheap seats.” In that life, I learned that I was a fighter. I also learned that Parkinson’s disease hates a fighter. And although the “life I learn with” will never end, the realization that there are many ways to enjoy that life, despite what ails me, has made it far more satisfying than it used to be. It has become the “life after that” in which I can truly live.
Mr. Sherman, of Forest Hills, NY, is a member of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) People with Parkinson’s Advisory Council and an attorney with specialization in real estate, elder law and estate planning. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2006, Mr. Sherman developed a blog, which can be visited here.