Sunday, October 11, 2009

Too Late Smart...

I had the pleasure this week of a visit from an old and dear friend, who's been living in Beijing for the last year. Way back in the Cretaceous (the 1980s), he was my college roommate and partner in crime. We had much fun together in those days, and our relationship long ago transcended friend and became family.

Mike TysonOne night this week we wound up watching a pay-per-view documentary on Mike Tyson. Yes, despite our intellectual tendencies, sophisticated pretensions, and supposedly sensitive souls, both of us still get a kick out of watching two guys trying to knock the snot out of each other. Back in his prime, Mike Tyson was the ultimate snot knocker. His story since, though, has been an epic tragedy of almost classical Greek proportions. Here was the most feared and physically powerful man of his time, brought down by inner demons for which his might proved no match, ultimately to become an object of scorn and ridicule. The film's narrative is driven by Iron Mike's own words, and rather than the brutal thug you might imagine him to be, he comes off as an extremely wounded, very agonized human being, and one with a strikingly philosophic take on things.

You wouldn't expect it from a man sporting a Maori face tattoo, who was convicted of rape, and is infamous for biting off the ear of one of his opponents, but Tyson espoused several insightful ideas that really gave me pause, and left me thinking for days. One of them was the phrase "too soon old, too late smart". I was pretty certain that Tyson didn't originate those words, and a quick Google revealed them to be the title of a self-help book that seems to have garnered some good reviews. Not that I'm recommending the book, as I haven't read it, and I find most self-help books to be crap, the psychological equivalent of a Big Mac. Be that as it may, its title certainly rings true. Too soon old, too late smart. Pretty well sums up the totality of my existence in six syllables.

This week, after several months of wonky stuff going on with my eyes, I finally went to the eye doctor. I'd shrugged off my weird eye shenanigans as another of MS' s many pleasures, as it's well known that Multiple Sclerosis likes to make playthings out of optic nerves. It's been getting increasingly difficult for me to see lately, with my vision getting kind of hazy, and multiple images surrounding any bright object I look at, so, finally, off to the eye doctor I went.

One quick gander into my eyeballs, and I was unceremoniously told that I have cataracts in both eyes, and will need corrective surgery in a few weeks. In the parlance of the Internet, WTF? Talk about "too soon old", what am I, 93? Between progressive MS, cataracts, and the handful of other medical delights that I've been graced with, there's hardly a 93-year-old in the world that would willingly trade bodies with me. It would likely be hard to find even a deceased 93-year-old that would make that deal, if deceased persons could in fact make such deals. They'd probably be like, "Um, thanks, but, um, really, no... I think I'll stick with the fetid rotting corpse, thank you. But best of luck to you...".

On the bright side, cataracts are very treatable, and the doctor said that after surgery I might not even need glasses anymore, but really, when is enough enough? Nothing to do but laugh, at myself, at my predicament, at the universe, at life and all of its peculiarities. It's no wonder that the Buddha is often depicted smiling. The world is nothing more than a stage for a theater of the absurd.

And that brings us to the second half of Mike Tyson's quoted wisdom, "too late smart". If I had only achieved this attitude of bemused detachment earlier in life, I could have saved myself years of heartache and misery. Sure, my newfound knowledge and take on life is serving me well through all the bullshit I now have to deal with, but it would have served me even better when I was healthy. Back then, when I still had the infinite power to redefine and redirect my life in a way of my own choosing, I was instead mired in a thicket of negative emotions and self-defeating attitudes and actions. I managed to achieve a certain level of professional and material success, but never found inner happiness. Now that my life has been redefined and redirected for me, by a completely suck ass disease and its coterie of little friends, I've been forced, too late, to get "smart".

To those healthy folks reading this, and even to those whose MS has been mild, I urge you with every fiber of my being to go to sleep tonight resolved and resolute that when you wake up tomorrow you will begin to conduct, with brutal self honesty, a complete inventory of your past. You will admit all of your mistakes, recognize all of the behaviors and attitudes that have thus far held you back, acknowledge all of the actions of others that have done you harm, and then decide to no longer allow any of it to have a negative impact on your present and future. The only power the past has on you is the power you allow it to have. You must take full ownership of all of the positives that you've experienced and accomplished, learn from all of the negatives, and then kick those negatives to the curb. Forever.

Much easier said than done, I know, but nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. There can be no more important exercise you can undertake. Forget about the stair stepper and the elliptical trainer for a minute, and get your mind right. Wishing won't make it so. This will be hard work. Making an honest assessment of yourself, and taking an accounting of all of the old ways and days that have added up to make you the person who you are now, will likely be very tough and even downright painful. The most difficult form of honesty to practice is self honesty, and it is to ourselves to whom we tell the most destructive lies. Come clean with yourself, own up to all of your past failings and misdeeds, resolve to forgive yourself as well as those who have wronged you, and you can begin to take the steps necessary to create a new and contented reality.

The Hasidic Jews have a proverb the gist of which says that the universe creates itself anew each and every dawn. It's their way of saying that the past has no real influence on the present. If this holds true for the universe, it must also hold true for the individuals in it. The only person that can loosen the grip that the past has on your present is you. Psychologists, spiritual gurus, and wheelchair kamikazes can ultimately only offer advice, it's up to you to make it so. The process should not be without joy, either; exult in your power to transform yourself.

As my grandmother used to say in times of trouble, "Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your bloomers and slide on the ice". Wise words, those, the equal I think to "too soon old, too late smart". I wonder if I could get that message to Mike Tyson...

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  1. I think that's an old pseudo-German saying (everyone, think it in a thick "Hogan's Heroes TV accent. My in-laws (of German descent) have the slogan on a cheap roadside attraction piece of lacquered wood hung in their kitchen. I fear it will be mine someday, brought home be dear hubby who saves it from the trash when they die.
    Anyway, I am getting old (and doesn't MS make it worse), but no smartness or insight please with that, Some ignorance is bliss.

  2. Hi Marc,

    Like your grandmothers saying, your post has given me a new understanding.
    You are right in saying that you have to take charge and not let the past get the better of you.
    Like the Hasidic Jews proverb very much.
    New day new chances.

  3. Hi Marc! This is a really great post. I did a personal inventory over the last 2 years and it was well worth it. I consider myself now too late young, but am grateful for every minute!

  4. Great post - as usual.

    Try not to worry too much about the cararact surgery. At 54 (a few years ago) it was among the best things that have ever happened to me. I went from eyes so bad it was barely legal for me to drive even with special contact lenses or coke bottle glasses to only needing glasss for reading. Truly a miracle.

    Since I also have PPMS, I understand how you feel about switching bodies with a 93 year old. My mother & mother-in-law are just a bit younger than that & it seems like they & some of their friends are doing a lot better than I am. Sometimes it can be really depressing to hang out with them for that reason.

    I try to remind myself of some of the children with whom I used to work who had severe health problems & disabilities. At least I was healthy when I was younger. I guess everybody just wants more time. No matter how long we are healthy, we always want more.

    I'm in the process of trying to get a power chair. As I zip around the OT's office or medical supply stores in trial chairs I think of you & wonder if I'll be a brave Kamikazi going fast out in the street. More likely, I'll be a whimp,afraid of getting dumped out of it. Time will tell.

  5. I just came across a new quote from

    "Have you noticed, that the more you hurry, the slower you go?
    The more you wait, the longer it takes?
    The more you worry, the less you dream?
    But the more you live, love, and laugh,... the more you live, love, and laugh."

    It reminds me to let go of the past and impatience and live fully in the moment.

  6. This is an excellent post. This is the first time I've commented here; I stumbled (har) upon your blog a few months ago and have been greedily consuming the archives and recent posts. A lot of what you write about the practical side of dealing with other people's reactions to MS, dealing with symptoms - well really, just about ALL of your blog really rings true with me.

    I really like this particular post because I've been going through a lot of stuff lately and a bit of personal absolution is definitely on the cards. Awesome. Keep writing.

    An MS patient in Scotland:

  7. Thanks so much Marc, like the MS patient in Scotland I've been going through a lot of stuff lately too and had a melt-down the other day. This post can help me re-direct the "stinken thinken" I've been doing and stop beating myself up. I'm getting black and blue and just plain worn out. Today WILL be a new day; I'll twist my head around and start by taking a shower right now. Carpediem.

  8. Kicker-I'm not sure which saying you're referring to, but I'm guessing it's the hasidic proverb. Interesting that it would have German roots, but not that surprising, since Yiddish and German are closely related languages.

    Herrad-thanks for the comments, I like the way you summed things up, new day new chances...

    rain-great way of turning around the too soon old sentiment. Too late young, kind of like that Bob Dylan song that went "I was so much older then I'm younger than that now".

    Anonymous-thanks for the praise, and for the encouraging words about cataract surgery. I'm actually looking forward to it, it will be nice to be able to see clearly once again. I've forgotten what it's like. Be careful and make sure you choose the right chair. My primary objective was speed, but that's just me. I think you'll be surprised at how quickly become comfortable using the chair, they're very responsive and soon become a body extension. You might want to check out the "wheelchair junkie" website, which has terrific forums filled with wheelchair users willing to give their opinions on choice of chair, etc.

    weeble-thanks for that sentiment. As always, you're filled with a gentle wisdom.

    Tigs-thanks for posting your comment. It's always good to hear from interested readers. I like your idea about personal absolution, so many of us are impeded by self guilt. The only thing we can do about our mistakes is learned from them, and try our best not to repeat them...

    carpediem-we all go through periods of beating ourselves up. The key is to not get stuck in that rut, to be self-aware but self forgiving, also. Much like total self honesty, forgiving oneself for past sins can be brutally hard, but is well worth it...

  9. Wow, this post really resonated with me.

    How you must look at some people and truly wonder what inane little things they let themselves get stressed out over. I put myself firmly at the front of this brigade.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and opening doors for people who may never even see them in the first place.

  10. I love your writing style and blog. I came across it searching for the orgin of the phrase, "Vee grow too soon oldt, und too late shmart". My grandmother(nonnie) used to always say that in her slight German accent. It certainly applies to what I and my family elders have gone through. I may have got a little smart just in the nick of time.

    The diagnosis' of Parkinson(ism), ALS, and MS all run in my family. At about the age of 46, I started suffering similar symptoms as those that were the beginning of the slow end for my grandparent's, and now my parent's lives. I have been able to successfully staved those symptoms off and remove them from my own body (at least temporarily and hopefully permanently) by switching to eating a high percentage raw whole food diet one year ago, and elimating all those foods that were discovered I had become sensitive to and formed antibodies to a few years prior. Those antibodies were formed due to a condition called leaky gut, which is a term used for intestinal permeability. Small undigested protein particles of the foods I had been consuming at the time the leaky gut developed, had passed into my bloodstream, and as an immune response, antibodies were formed. Through the elimination of those foods from my diet, and with time, the antibodies have dissipated and I am recovering. As well, the leaky gut seems to be healing. There are many other factors involved, but those are the cliff notes on it.

    If I do consume enough of my problem foods-by accidental exposure or through weak will and poor adherance to the diet, I begin again with the stumbling, slurring of words, the loss of manual dexterity, slight tremors at times, and other parkinson's and MS like symptoms among other mental, physical and neurological difficulties.

    It saddens me and is very frustrating that my parents are going through the same sets of symnptoms, yet can't bring themselves or their doctors to understand the possible connection between their like conditions and possible problematic foods. Considering all our like (mis)diagnosises, and treatments with the same classes of drugs which only worsened my conditions, I firmly believe they could have recovered by a large degree, had they changed their diet some years ago. I feel very blessed to have had my eyes opened to the causes of my problems and been able to address it soon enough. I have proved to myself, by the elimination of wheat products to start with(based on the advice of a chiropractor my wife met at a Whole Foods store), that my nervous system problems were being caused by the intolerance of gluten as well as the other food sensitivities. Forgive me for being so lengthy about it but it is now one of my missions in life to try and help others with similar symptoms, in the event they may also have similar causes.
    I wish you well, and thank you for this insightful article.

  11. The life of Mike Tyson is very interesting I've
    seen a documentary about his personal problems,
    and he has too many problems, I want to know
    more about Mike Tyson.

  12. Your blog is nice I got a lot of information that I wanted to know and it was very useful for me, thanks for sharing.

  13. The same length of time one sits on a bucking bull in a rodeo. It's over quick, but I can imagine when on the animal's back time stands still.

  14. Must stop reading, must go to work. Dang, you are good!

  15. An interesting story with my idol, Mike is a legend