Friday, August 1, 2014

Heavy Lifting

I recently learned that Harvey Pratt has ALS - Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a progressive muscle disease. This is the tagline where people say: Lou Gherigs' disease. Another tag line: you know, the thing that physicist Stephen Hawking has.

And, now, Harvey Pratt.

I couldn't believe it when I saw the fundraising poster, tacked on the window of the CVS store. I often scan and move on...another person and family struggling. But those riveting blue eyes grabbed me. Harvey Pratt has ALS. Are you kidding me? Why is it that certain things jolt us from the everydayness of everyday? When I learned Harvey has this debilitating disease it was one of those moments - a slap in the face.

I met Harvey at the Band Boosters booth at one of the Oberlin High School football games about five years ago. My sons were tuba and saxophone respectively. I don't even know what instrument his daughter played.

Harvey, his wife, Nickie, and I were among a bustling group of parents yanking snacks and food off the shelves and serving to the hungry. At one point, the orders were coming thick and heavy. "We're in the weeds," I yelled. Harvey looked at me - those brilliant, blue eyes - and a wonderful gusty laugh came forth. A guffaw. We grinned in unison and laughed together. During our shift, we had a playful rapport - two parents in the thick of raising our kids and doing the heavy lifting of parenting.

I usually feel out of place. For some reason, Harvey made me feel in the very rightest place at that moment. So easy to be with. "It would be great to hang out with him and his family," I thought. "What great people." Of course, as usual, I hang back.

Perhaps I am ever the journalist, liking to observe. Though, at times, I feel a sad distance.

Looking more closely, however, I feel warmed that Harvey's struggle brings out the best in what a community has to offer. When I hear about something like this it rattles me. Driving by his house, I see a new wheelchair ramp. At the spaghetti fundraiser, Harvey is scooting around the fundraiser in a motorized wheelchair. His voice is breathy, following surgery to help his breathing. He was diagnosed just four months ago. How can one of the nicest guys who is just 45 and has his whole life ahead of him get dealt this? Why? What are we here for? Blahblahblahblah.

I am off into existential ennui. Harvey is out there battling. I am here pondering navel lint. The whyness of everything.

I have no answers.

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