©2021 R.G. Ryan
The tremors began when Jesse was forty.
He didn’t think much of it at first, passing it off as simply the result of too much caffeine in his diet.
When he could no longer control the shaking in his left hand, he decided it was time to seek medical help.
After extensive tests the doctor called him in for a consultation, a call that has been known to turn even the most stalwart of hearts to water.
And yet Jesse refused to be controlled by fear believing that whatever the news there would be an upside.
“There is always an upside,” he had been heard to say on numerous occasions.
“You are in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease,” the doctor said matter-of-factly, his demeanor cold and detached.
“What exactly is Parkinson’s Disease,” Jesse asked.
“Well,” the doctor said, drawing a deep breath before launching into a windily verbose explanation that was completely over Jesse’s head.
From what he could understand Parkinson’s disease, or PD for short is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects about one in one hundred people over the age of sixty. But in an estimated five to ten percent of patients onset starts by the age of forty.
Jesse was in that ten percent.
When the doctor finished his rambling discourse Jesse said, “So, bottom line, how will this affect my life and is it terminal?”
This time the doctor said, “It’s not terminal in the sense that cancer is terminal. However, the symptoms can become so severe that the affected individual can often perish from choking, pneumonia or fatal falls. Regarding the day to day effects on the quality of life, that depends on the individual, but it is a neurological disease and loss of motor control is real and quite often severe.”
That was eight years ago.
I sat with Jesse one recent fall morning at a beachside coffee shop on the southern coast of California enjoying the ambience provided by a gentle surf and balmy climate.
He said, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this, RG.”
“Do what?” said I.
Sighing deeply, he replied, “Even after two surgeries, which were supposed to help with the tremors, I have days when I can’t even get a cup of coffee or glass of water to my lips without spilling most of it all over my clothes.” (This from a man who was, at one time a phenomenally gifted athlete).
“And then there’s the loneliness.” He paused to stare past the blue horizon. “It seems that no one wants to hang out with you when you have PD.”
The statement seemed to hang there as two noisy, jousting gulls carried their contest past our table and out onto the sand.
“I don’t know what to say, man,” I replied lamely.
He nodded slowly and then said, “I can’t sleep at night, and then fall asleep during the day at the most inopportune times. But the worst thing is that I haven’t had a date in over three years. Women just think I’m a freak, I guess.”
A family of five slogged slowly past us carrying coolers, umbrellas and various other beach gear seeking to take advantage of the conditions provided by strong Santa Ana winds which were blowing up and down the Southern California coast and causing near record temperatures.
I had never seen him this low, and it quite frankly alarmed me.
“Do you have any social interaction at all?” I asked.
“You mean besides my Facebook account?”
“Well,” he said. “I met a couple—regulars here—a few weeks back at another coffee shop and they invited me over for dinner.”
“Did you go?”
I said, “Seems to me at the very least it could be a partial answer for the loneliness issues.”
“I know. But they’re Christians and I think they were trying to get me to come to a Bible study or something.”
“So what? Last time I looked you weren’t exactly an atheist or anything.”
In his younger days Jesse had been a theology student and had strongly considered a career in ministry.
“It’s not that,” he said wearily. “It’s the whole thing of associating with something I no longer want to have anything to do with.”
“What, the church?”
“But what if they were simply trying to offer a chance for relationship and had no ambitions beyond that?”
He said, “That would be quite unusual.”
We both smiled and I said, “It could happen. I mean it’s rare, but there could be Christians out there whose first goal isn’t to convert you but just to offer friendship.”
Jesse reached his palsied hand toward the coffee cup, concentrating mightily on not spilling.
He made it.
“One victory at a time,” he said while returning the cup to the table top.
“I think you should take them up on their offer and see what happens,” I said.
“Absolutely. I mean what’s the worst that could happen, that you go over and they talk about God and invite you to church? Come on, Jesse! You could handle that, especially when that could be the furthest thing from their intent and you’d have the opportunity to actually form a relationship with someone.”
With great difficulty he extracted a well-worn business card from the pocket of his jeans, read the number out loud and immediately dialed it into his cell phone.
After a few seconds he said, “Greg? It’s Jesse. We met—”
His sentence was halted as it was apparent that Greg knew immediately who he was.
“I was wondering—”
Jesse started to say and then was seemingly cut off once again as a genuine smile began to spread over his face.
“Well, that would be nice. That’d be real nice. Sure thing. I’ll see you tomorrow night. Yeah, I know exactly where your place is.”
“Well?” I queried after he had ended the call.
“I guess I’m going over there tomorrow night,” he replied as a small, satisfied smile played over his lips.
I found myself hoping that Greg was one of those rare breeds whose primary goal in life was to simply make himself available to be known and then investing himself in knowing others.
“I have a good feeling about this, ” I said as we stood to go our separate ways.
Shaking my proffered hand Jesse said, “Me too. Next time, let’s not wait a year before hooking up.”
I nodded as I watched him walk away, carefully placing each foot in front of the other, his left hand trembling at his side; remembering the man he used to be, but liking the one he had become just fine.
Driving back home, I wondered what the world would look like if all of us turned our concentration from being driven by a particular agenda and instead focused on simply knowing each other and being known.
On the spot I decided to start with me.