Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Balancing Acts

On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit stepped onto a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center and enthralled New Yorkers with a breathtaking, impossibly daring performance—a singular mélange of focus, nonchalance, courage, beauty, and joy.

This week we mark the anniversary of the loss of the towers: seven years since that mild, clear morning gave way to ashes, flames, and dust. Up the Hudson River, where I live, you could smell the smoke for days.

As we all turned for comfort to family, friends, and neighbors, I felt fortunate to have recently found a virtual community on the Parkinson's Information Exchange Network Online (founded by Barb Patterson and John Cottingham, now going into its tenth year). On the email listserv of this site, PwPs of varying ages, stages, and nationalities exchanged information, stories, support, and humor. There were occasional scuffles and sulks, too, which only heightened feelings of being accepted, real, alive.

In the days following September 11th, many of us felt so alive it hurt. Like crabs who had shed their shells, we existed in a state of intense vulnerability and awareness that was almost too much to bear.

It is said that every loss stirs memories of other losses. For those who live with a degenerative illness, the consciousness of loss is never entirely absent, and each day is an emotional tightrope. We people with Parkinson's develop great skill on the wire. But when some extra, unexpected disaster comes at us, it's easy to fall off.

With normal reserve and defenses cast eroded, listserv discussions in the aftermath of 9/11 became increasingly vehement and political. The list began to fall into factions. One insisted that discussion be limited to topics directly related to PD, while the other declared that by excluding broader topics we artificially cordoned ourselves off and denied our role in the larger world. Remembering that discussion, I searched the list archives and found that around this time, well before Stephen Colbert and The Word, someone had posted the following:

Today's Word: Solidarity (Noun)
Pronunciation: [sah-lê-'dæ-rê-tee]
Definition 1: A unity of interests, objectives, standards and sympathy that results in community.

I can't think of a better word to honor this anniversary, as we struggle in arenas large and small to find unity and community.

Remembering Murray Charters and Camilla Flintermann, guiding lights of the list and extraordinary human beings. They are missed.

The exploits of Phillippe Petit and his band of co-conspirators are the subject of a remarkable documentary, Man on Wire.

photo by Tony Hoffman from flickr.com


Kathleen said...

This is where people can leave comments. This one is here as a place holder.

Marti said...

Congratulations on being named as one of Liz Strauss' Successful Bloggers.

I understand your struggle with Parkinson's. I am caregiver for my mother-in-law who suffers from the disease. Sending you many good wishes with your blog and managing your Parkinson's.

Kathleen said...

To Marti: Thanks! I am thrilled to be on Liz Strauss's roster.

Good wishes to you too, and to your mother-in-law. It is enormously helpful to go through this with people who care about you and are willing to walk the path with you.

Hope to see you again!

Reading Matter

  • David Howes, editor. Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader. NY: Berg, 2005.