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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 05/19/23 – Grace Under Extreme Duress

One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away,

unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox

I recently saw this CBS interview clip of Michael J. Fox on Parkinson's, and maintaining optimism. I suspect that most if not all who read this will know who he is. He was a huge star in the 80s, on TV and Film, from Family Ties to Back to the Future and beyond. He learned he had Parkinson’s in 1991 at 29 years old. It was at the height of his acting career when he detected an uncontrolled tremor in his pinky. His life changed, but he retained his dignity and found purpose.

As his story on his Parkinson’s Foundation website notes, he hid it for years. He came out publicly in the late 90s and shortly thereafter launched the foundation in 2000. Through his foundation, he helped raise 1.5 billion Dollars for Parkinson Research. Fox recently announced that they helped develop a new test for Parkinson which may assist with early detection and treatment. Not a person who has given into despair. The kind of story we need more of to change the trajectory of our society, that consistently seems to struggle with a positive narrative on who and what we are.

Over the decades, I had seen a few snippets about him carrying on with life despite the debilitating obstacles placed in his path, one that he knows will lead to an early death. I found this clip of Woody Harrelson honoring him and talking about how Michael always had the ability to make people feel special and has lived his life with courage and dignity. On so many levels, I have no idea of the scope and magnitude of the challenge and suffering he has faced. He has served as an example for millions of people on how to live, and not just those who get a diagnosis like Parkinson’s.

I have known other people in my life who have faced grim diagnosis with similar grace. As the quote above highlights, we have choices in life about how we face things, even as the things in our cards are so often out of our control. In many of his interviews, Fox talks about maintaining optimism and how grateful that he is for the life he has. In one of the interviews I saw, he even noted that for him, Parkinson’s had provided some gifts. Pretty incredible.

I found this article interesting, the science of gratitude: As we age, our brains get better at feeling thankful which talks about how we become better at gratitude with age. It is sort of fascinating that despite all that gets thrown at us, we may become more optimistic over time. Perhaps it comes with the knowledge that each hardship has the potential to reveal things of value to us. From listening to Michael that seems to be a central facet of what has kept him going. Also, Student Academic Engagement and Burnout Amidst COVID-19: The Role of Purpose Orientations and Disposition Towards Gratitude in Life shows it can even assist with retention in school. As he noted in one clip, giving up is boring.

Michael J Fox is clearly an extraordinary human being. His character is something that is probably in some ways part and parcel of who he is as a person. But I do not doubt that some days he, like the rest of us, experiences deep despair and pessimism. It seems clear from listening to a number of interviews he works hard to stay grateful and optimistic given his deteriorating condition. The truth of his circumstances and in turn our own is that the one thing we have control over is how we face things. Gratitude and optimism are muscles that need exercise. They become stronger with effort. Mine take a lot of effort to stay functional.

So, we can face what we face filled with bitter negativity or grace and gratitude. Which is really the easier way? Which path yields better outcomes in respect to the investment of our finite time and energy? Being miserable is no fun and actually takes a lot of work. It is also true that how we are impacts those around us. When I am in a miserable mood, it makes it more difficult for people around me to have a good day, which is another reason to work on the whole gratitude thing.

Michael has a movie about his life that was released earlier this week. It is called, STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie. The clip looks good. I intend to watch it. I am grateful for people like him to be a better version of myself. It takes work, but at least from where I sit it is well worth the effort. If it helps me feel more positive, it will be a good time investment.

Gratitude: A Lesson In Two Parts in Forbes starts with the observation that “Gratitude is like cholera. Both are highly contagious, potent and spread person to person, but their cholera induces death, gratitude induces happiness.” I would prefer to spread happiness. It is true I am imperfect in this wish, but I also see that the more I work at it, the better it gets. The better I get. Even my most negative attitude days are a far cry from what I was capable of in darker days. Grateful that with work and effort, I can help induce happiness. I am grateful for all of those around me who make it a little easier for me by doing the same, it is one thing we can do for each other.

What are you grateful for today?

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