JIM WAUN

By hook or crook some find ways to realize their life’s dreams and fantasies; others not so much. Some completely give up.

I’m not talking about the fantasies of special effects movies or mythological fire-breathing monsters. And I’m not talking about the reported dreams of suicide bombers of going directly to heaven and being greeted by a hundred virgins. Nor am I talking about Christian dreams of heaven as a place with everlasting life of love and joy. Like a full service dude ranch.

I’m talking about realizing the daydreams of possible lives. To provide for our basic needs of sustenance and protection and loving and being loved, we set concrete goals that include building relationships and careers and establishing lifestyles. I call the plans we devise for accomplishing those goals real-life fantasies.

But achieving  life’s fantasies for days, weeks, months and years rarely if ever goes as planned. A Longfellow poem reassures us that on gloomy, rainy days the sun still shines beyond the clouds. When roadblocks and setbacks threaten to cripple or destroy fantasies, revising them and maintaining a clear vision are key to establishing a satisfying life.

But that takes hard work, courage and often personal compromise. More than some can accomplish. A couple of patients from my previous medical practice come to mind. One was an elderly woman who took to bed in her nursing home and refused to get up. Nobody knew when or why she decided to resign from life. Our only clue was that she had no family nearby. We tried every trick we could think of to get her to get up. Nothing worked. When we tried forcing her to get up  one day she fought back. We were afraid her brittle bones might break.

Another was a middle-aged man with multiple sclerosis. After he lost his job and his wife left him, he moved to the nursing home to be closer to family.  

He needed a wheelchair to get around but would have been able to physically participate in a host of activities. Instead, he was a passive observer of life around him. Neither his family nor I were able to interest him in becoming more active.

Whenever I suggested something, his response was always to say I have Multiple Sclerosis. In frustration, one day I asked him if he had MS or did it have him? His response was an expressionless gaze.

Stephen Hawking’s story stands in stark contrast. Mr. Hawking is a world renown physicist and writer who was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, in his 20s while a student at Cambridge University. He was told he wouldn’t live more than two years.  

Fifty years later, in his early 70s, he is still active in the public square. In a wheelchair and only able to move the muscles in one cheek, he activates a machine that allows him to communicate with the world.

He is outspoken, fiercely independent, and says he has the same hopes, dreams and desires as every other human being.

Similar to him and regardless of their circumstances many others are content and satisfied with their lives. Through perseverance and sometimes by hook or crook, they find ways of accommodating their personal goals to their lives.

I have to accept that my weakness as a motivator may have contributed to the two patients’ inability to find purpose in their lives. But many others also seem unable to conjure up a vision of happiness and/or the necessary courage, resolve and spiritual strength to find satisfaction for their souls.

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