“Ride a painted pony,
Let the spinnin’ wheel spin.”
Recently, I had a flashback to those lyrics by David Clayton-Thomas and recorded by the band Blood, Sweat & Tears. They speak to me on many levels.
The foundational metaphor suggests life is like a merry-go-round, beset with ups and downs. It’s pointless to become preoccupied with your problems. Best to just get on the ride and let it go. It will eventually stop.
I am also reminded of a large roulette table. Life is subject to the wheel’s whim. Everything is chance. Where the ball will land on any given spin nobody knows.
The song also calls into question the framework with which decisions are made. Is life led by adhering to an unwavering worldview? Or, is there latitude to reflect and adjust within established precepts?
The stimulus behind the song’s recollection was the passing of my birthday. I received numerous messages acknowledging the occasion. One in particular did the trick:
“This past year, I suspect many of us have come to an insight that you probably had many years ago; birthdays are not to be taken for granted.”
The inference is, of course, that by virtue of living day-to-day with ALS, I had experienced an earlier epiphany, that it took a pandemic to engender in others. As I pondered that thought, the words of Clayton-Thomas began swimming in my head. In turn, the replay helped to formulate a portion of the group thank-you to my birthday well-wishers:
“An argument can be made that life bears resemblance to a casino. Eventually the house always wins. For a while now I’ve enjoyed a winning streak, seemingly funded by ‘house money.’”
Prior to ALS, I inhabited a fairly egocentric world. When the wheel of fortune stopped on the ALS death penalty, my myopia only intensified. I felt alone and singularly victimized.
Over time, I began interacting with others who had been dealt the same ALS tarot card. In a “misery loves company” kind of way, at least I was not the only one. A “defending the Alamo” social contract materialized, providing a modicum of comfort.
As my initial symptom of stumbling became tumbling, followed by fumbling, and now mumbling, a curious phenomenon unfolded. The band of sisters and brothers I count myself a member of steadily increased. This swell in numbers wasn’t exclusively from fellow ALS sufferers.
The second multidisciplinary treatment clinic I visited was of the Muscular Dystrophy Association variety. Through that organization I was introduced to folks afflicted with the maladies under their broad umbrella. Consequently, I became kindred spirits with those battling any neuromuscular disease.
When I was accepted as a content contributor at ALS News Today, I had no clue as to their reach. ALS News Today is part of the parent company BioNews. BioNews exists to serve at least 60 patient and caregiver communities. Suddenly, I was part of a much larger, heterogeneous conglomerate.
Reader reaction to my column will occasionally come from someone not at all impacted by disease. Instead, the response will result from the column’s topic having resonated with them, as they struggle with a non-health-related hardship. Slowly, I began to understand that having ALS doesn’t make me unique.
Grappling with trials, tribulations, setbacks, and pain as we vainly seek to elude the relentlessly stalking Grim Reaper is a universal human condition. It’s not me against the world. It’s humanity against an often cruel, always broken life.
The upheaval and devastation left in the wake of COVID-19 only reinforces that. From the day we are born, we are ticking time bombs. Everyone’s detonation clock will strike zero, jettisoning us from here to eternity. No one on this side of heaven is immune. As Snoop Dogg observes in an advertisement for Corona beer, “Down the hole we all go.”
Call it a spinning wheel, a casino, or a back alley game of craps, none of us has the slightest control of the ultimate outcome. That’s the bad news. The good news is that like birthdays, every day is the anniversary of some day. Why not celebrate each dawn?
As Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sang, “Roll me and call me the tumblin’ dice.”
Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.
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