Many people have complimented me on my courage and persistence lately, as I continue to struggle with my MS. The question though, really, is what is the alternative? Is it some great virtue that I refuse to cop an attitude and grow whiny and ask “why me” every five minutes? In the face of a huge challenge like this disease, when exactly is it okay to give up? Is there a point where that could ever be rational?
Let’s start with the facts. I have a disease for which there is no cure. Everything happening in my body right now is completely beyond my control, which is to say there is nothing that I can directly do about it. Even nutrition and my daily injections will do nothing at all to modify the outcome of this current flareup. This adds up to one thing: powerlessness. My chosen coping methods (praying, meditating, and staying in the present moment) make a huge difference in my attitude, but are not treatments for the disease itself.
Given this basic state of powerlessness, the question is whether hanging in there, or giving up, is the best thing to do. I think, frankly, the situation calls for both. There is a great deal of giving up I must do. I must give up my illusions of control. I must give up the notion of myself as master of my destiny — clearly I am not. I also must be willing to hold on loosely to dreams of recovery. I hope it comes, but I don’t know, and I cannot afford, emotionally, to attach high hopes to the prospects of recovery, whether full or partial. Besides, if I console myself now by hoping for recovery at a later time, I’m taking a dangerous shortcut. It’s one more way of believing I will be okay if only my external circumstances are okay. But I want to be okay either way, don’t you?
That is the letting go I must do. And it is only as I do that letting go that I will be able to hang onto what I must hang onto. It is not hope of recovery I must cling to. It is not the notion that one day I will be perfectly well in heaven. It is the sacredness and beauty of the present moment (Biblically, “Now is the time of salvation). Of course when a person is extremely ill as I am, they often wish to run from the present moment, viewing it as the source of their problems. But the present moment is not the source of my problems. As I sit typing these words I am in my living room at home — the place where I feel safest. Christy and one of my girls are sleeping, and that feels peaceful. The other is in the tub. It is quiet. I am doing what I most love to do, writing and thinking. I am covered by an electric blanket placed on my lap by the beautiful women in my home who love and care for me. I am wearing “hot booties,” slippers Christy bought me that you heat in the microwave. I can’t feel my legs, but as long as I don’t try moving them I’m fine. My cousin Becky, whom I haven’t seen in over 30 years, is sending me words of love on Facebook. I keep hearing “popping” sounds as my Facebook friends chime in and tell me I am loved and thank me for my role in their lives. Christians, you may choose to say it is “God” in this moment, and that’s what I believe. Others may say it’s the universe or whatever they prefer. Whatever you call it, it’s profoundly good, and it’s a gift that is always available right now — and so we call it “the present.”
I’m just not sure life gets much better than that. Yeah, I know, it would be better if all this were happening when I were NOT paralyzed, but that’s not how it works. You can’t take off work for weeks at a time and sit around interacting with people who love you on Facebook just for the heck of it. But when the moment comes, you can resist the powerful urge to ostrich. You can reach out, and let people love you. If you do, you will see how much they need to be doing exactly that. I know when my friends are sick I need to love them — but it’s harder when the tables are turned, isn’t it? It’s easier to love than to let others love us, to serve than let others serve us. My role for right now is to let others love and serve, and every time I do this, I learn humility. By the way, you will learn much more humility in life letting others serve you than in serving others. When you serve, you’re the one who has something to give. When you are served, you have nothing, and you take what someone else is giving. Which is more humbling?
So the answer to the question, “When is it okay to give up?” is that it depends on what you mean when you say, “give up.” There are a lot of things life is going to strip away from you whether you want it to or not, and the sooner you give up and stop fighting over what is no longer yours, the better off you will be. And it is never okay to sink into a permanent state of depression or self-pity (though they will both get their time on stage). Life will always have beauty in it, no matter how dark the days get.
As for me, I have already decided what I will do, no matter where this goes. I will let go of what I cannot keep, so that I can embrace the things I cannot lose. If I cling to walking as a condition for happiness, what will I do when I am old? If I cling to being self-sufficient, what will become of me? If I cannot be happy unless my whole body is functioning on all cylinders, then God help me, I am already on the way down. If I can give up the need for these things (and I think that’s in process), then I will find the life that is there to be gained when everything I thought was life is gone. How do I know this? Because it’s happening every minute, every hour. I feel in my bones this peace that passes understanding and it is not because of all I have learned or done — it is because of all I have learned to let go of.
When it is okay to give up? Never. Ever. Ever. And right away, right in this moment.