Today, I volunteered with the organization Lori’s Hands to assist a man with a chronic neurological disease. His name was Dave, and what he has is called spinocerebellar ataxia. It’s a condition characterized by the progressive problems with movement. It causes problems with one’s coordination and balance, and impairs their speech and swallowing ability. The muscles in the body cramp and stiffen, and the sensation in the hands and body decrease. It weakens eye movement, and reduces the ability to remember and process information. Over time, a person can develop numbness or tingling in the arms and legs, and progressive loss of vision.
My group arrived at Dave’s house, ready to throw down in the kitchen, because apparently that’s what he usually asks for. But instead, he asked us to help sort out his closet. He wanted us to separate his clothes into what he wanted, and what was going to Goodwill. So we went through the massive pile of clothes lying on the floor in his closet. There had to have been over 40 shirts, pants, belts, and hoodies. As we lifted each item up in a show-and-tell fashion, we patted off the collection of dust they all had, and pointed out the good things in each so Dave could keep more clothes. As we sorted through, he started to share his preferences. He only wanted shirts with pockets, so he wouldn’t lose his call bell. He didn’t like the over sized sweaters or shirts because he lost a lot of weight. The button down shirts weren’t appealing because they weren’t his style. He wanted to keep his marathon apparel because it was sentimental, and his dress pants for any possible special occasions, such as the Lori’s Hand’s banquet coming up. Soon, my eyes began to water.
Dave had a smile on his face the whole time. Gosh. No matter what he said, there was the sound of joy in his voice. Often times it was difficult to hear his full sentence, but he spoke so sweetly. He bumped into every wall nearly 10 times, because the remote to his mobile wheelchair was tough to control. But he thought it was funny. He enjoyed telling us the story behind all of the pictures in his house. He met Bill Nye the science guy, biked 30 miles in a race, and won a Senior Olympics award.
All we did was organize clothes. We didn’t give him pills or give him a bath or take his blood pressure. We sorted out clothes. And immediately I felt so small. I can’t really describe how I felt, but every time I was ever angry or jealous or ungrateful or pitiful about something in my life, it vanished in that moment. The time we got to spend with Dave felt so much bigger than life. Serving him didn’t feel like a job or task any more, it felt like what I was meant to be doing.
I have the ability to drive a car, walk down the street, and run up the stairs if I please. I have all five senses, and I wake up each morning with the privilege of being able to use them to their fullest abilities, and for these things, I’m grateful. But to be in the presence of someone who can no longer do half as much as I can, and to witness how much life still seeps through him, is inspiring.
Dave is writing a book about the intricacies of stem cell research, and is on his 4th chapter. He’s still living his life the best way he can, and hasn’t let his disease make him unstoppable. And for people like him, I’d be willing to do anything for.