A Glimpse Into the ALS Time Continuum
“But if I had the
Chance to start all over
I would be wishing today
On a four-leaf clover …
If I could turn back
The hands of time.”
The 45 rpm single “Turn Back the Hands of Time” by rhythm and blues artist Tyrone Davis was a foundational element when I began collecting musical recordings. Like many pieces, it is prone to spontaneous memory retrieval in response to a stream-of-consciousness trigger. Such was the case shortly after my ALS diagnosis was delivered.
For over a century, people have reported seeing their lives flash before them during periods of extreme stress, particularly near-death situations. After my ALS death sentence was handed down, I experienced a similar phenomenon. However, in my case, the sudden, rapid-fire burst of autobiographical content was soon followed by repeated, much slower, vignette replays. Each episode rerun begged for a “turn back the hands of time” scrutiny.
Maybe the prospect of a truncated life span prompted a desire for retrospective validation of the “goodness” of my prior life. And a cursory glance affirmed that premise. But when viewed under more critical optics, the mirror’s reflection became decidedly marred.
After close inspection, my past unfolded in a series of suboptimal, if not inappropriate, behaviors. It turns out that the motorcade of “Back to the Future” DeLorean time machines necessary to patch all of the potholes and sinkholes of my pre-ALS life would need to be immense.
Interwoven in my patchwork quilt of mistakes were innumerable relationship shortcomings. Far too often I missed the mark as son, grandson, sibling, friend, student, teammate, cousin, nephew, employee, peer, manager, husband, stepfather, and in-law. That somber reality hit me hard.
What’s more, I had violated many — all, if sinful thought is factored in — of God’s commandments. I had trampled on the Gospel imperative to love my neighbor — meaning everyone — as myself. Any legacy that I might leave behind was apt to be a cautionary one of how not to live.
I was drowning in a sea of remorse. Something that began as hopefully a feel-good exercise had deposited me in a state of melancholic insomnia.
On her deathbed, my mom told my dad that she had no regrets. I found myself reflecting on that statement. My mother was a wonderful woman, but no regrets? In light of my haunting trip down memory lane, I found that notion absurd.
Then it struck me. My mom had led an imperfect life. But she maintained a faith that promised forgiveness. In that context, what did she have to regret?
At that moment, I realized that the same applies to me. My contrition over past transgressions was fitting. But like my mother, I have mercifully been forgiven. In turn, I could forgive myself. It was cathartic and cleansing. I could sleep again.
Fast-forward to my brother’s recent visit. During our time together, we decided to go through a box of old photos. The collection had not been opened since before my ALS diagnosis. Thus, the pictures would certainly contain glimpses into the history that I had ruminated about years before.
Indeed, they did. Without any effort, the captured images spun me back to many of the moments that I had fretted over, before the intervention of my mom’s posthumous wisdom.
They also packed a welcome, unexpected surprise. Many of them reflected joy, merriment, and contentment on the faces of those assembled. Affection and fellowship were obvious. The photos illustrated that, despite my admitted flawed participation, I was an element of something special. It was a perfect, tonic-like juxtaposition to my earlier angst.
Suddenly, Davis’ lyrics again sprang from the recesses of my mind. “If I could turn back the hands of time,” I’d alter just two things:
- I’d be a better Christian by loving everyone more selflessly.
- I’d take more pictures.
Going forward, I pledge to do both. After all, I’ve got the time.
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