Have I mentioned I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show & that I got a hug from Michael J. Fox?

This is where my #TeamFox mission began!  Well, mostly.  Time-line-wise, my goal of someday paying-it-forward to Michael J. Fox began the day I watched the press conference (1998/1999?) when he announced he was establishing The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.  Then, with each subsequent news item & interview, it became beyond-obvious that Michael J. Fox was making a difference in the lives of others in increasingly exponential proportion. He kept tackling every opportunity – with his talent & intelligence, with his unwavering devotion, and with that rare, shining kind of purpose-&-passion-driven dedication – to keep moving forward, to “do good,” to make each & every day count. (I sometimes wonder if Michael J. Fox & Phil Keoghan know one another, because their #NoOpportunityWasted ways of looking at life would make for a wonderful friendship, a great meeting of hearts/minds – and because the two of them both inspire & motivate me in essential, complementary ways, to keep adding things to my Life List, to keep taking action to check things off the list as Woohoo!-completed)

Point is, I knew way back, before 2002 when Oprah interviewed Michael J. Fox in regard to his 1st book, Lucky Man (& I ended up there in Chicago as a part of that episode) that one day (somehow) I would have to say Thank You in a Texas-big fashion for the difference Michael J. Fox had made in my life. I didn’t know what I’d do or how I’d manage, I just knew that I had to do something, and I knew that I would.

When I was invited go come on The Oprah Winfrey Show & meet Michael J. Fox, to tell my story & to thank him for his inspiration, I first thought: This is it, this is my chance! And, please, don’t get me wrong, that was an experience of a lifetime for which I am eternally grateful – to everyone involved with the show, to Oprah Winfrey, herself, to the other guests (who moved & inspired & motived me) – Morton Kondracke, his beautiful daughters, Alexandra & Andrea, and (in spirit) Millicent Kondracke. Milly was a mighty force, an advocate, a straight-shooter, who was responsible for advancing awareness of the toll Parkinson’s Disease takes on an individual’s life & on all those around them.  She & her husband Morton Kondracke took action. Together, their family effected great change that resulted in the funding of research for Parkinson’s Disease. The Kondracke family offered up their stories, laid bare their painful experiences, over & over again. And they did so in ways that flat-out refused to allow others to not listen, to not pay attention, to not understand & grasp the consequences of inaction: Milly Kondracke & her family made people bear witness to the effects of not choosing to help make a difference. That takes massive courage. I wish, so much, that I could’ve met Milly Kondracke. I have a feeling we’d have gotten along tremendously. I also have a feeling we would’ve gotten into a lot of trouble together 🙂

When I had the incredible opportunity of meeting Michael J. Fox on The Oprah Winfrey Show, I was given the gift of thanking him in person. Which offered me the privilege of knowing that my gratitude was heard, which is an amazing feeling. I thanked him in my previously-filmed interview segment, I thanked him from my front-row seat during the taping of the show, and I even whispered “Thank You” (maybe more than once?) right into his ear while he was hugging me. (Michael J. Fox hugged me!)

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I still get emotional & overwhelmed (in the best kind of way) whenever I remember those moments & reflect on how much it mattered, how much it meant to me, that Michael J. Fox got up out of his chair, came off the stage & hurried down those steps to embrace me. The memory, the fact of it, continues to uplift, encourage & restore me.

I know it may sound kinda-silly or overly dramatic, but I nonetheless assert that Michael J. Fox pretty much convinced me to marry Gary while the proposal was still on the proverbial table. Which is why, on every anniversary of Gary’s & my marriage (sixteen & counting), I send out a Woohoo-Yeeha-Thank You! to Michael J. Fox.  Because it’s quite possible that without the changes I made in my life & in my self due to Michael J. Fox’s inspiration & example, I wouldn’t have “righted” myself in time to keep Gary in my life, wouldn’t have recognized I was worthy of being his (or anyone’s) wife – as in, good enough just the way I am.

To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that one need’s a spouse to be “complete,” to be “happy” or in order to “live life to the fullest” – re-visioning myself as not-less-than because of illness & disability would’ve changed everything regardless of my life-partnership-status. Timing, though, as they say, is everything. And before the diagnosis of MS, I’d not have hesitated to leap into a future life as Gary’s wife. Which is why in this story, my story, the difference in how I saw myself & my life with MS, in the light of the way MJF was living his life with Parkinson’s – that transformation happened at a time when huge life decisions were needing to be made. Like joining my life with another’s.

Sure, some things are different when one partner has a chronic illness, a lot of things in our lives are no-doubt more challenging.  But with or without MS, I am still me: capable of loving completely & being loved completely in return.  There is no disease, no kind of difference in ability (or disability) that changes who I am, my worth, my heart’s allegiances & capacity. Everybody always tells me how lucky I am to have Gary, and they are right: I am lucky.  Interestingly, though, no one has ever, not once, said to me that Gary is lucky to have me. Which I think speaks a lot more to how our society views illness, differing levels of ability & disability, than it says about my husband or me.  Gary & I, we are lucky to have each other.  That, I know for sure.

I’m also pretty sure that Michael J. Fox deserves every single “Thank You” that I holler out each year on Gary’s & my anniversary, and I’m 90% certain that without the eye-opening & attitude-adjusting conveyed via bearing witness to the way Michael J. Fox chose to live his life in response to/in spite of Parkinson’s – making every day, every moment count – I would’ve missed the boat, missed the window of opportunity, missed out by just this-much accepting Gary’s proposal of partnership/friendship/love-ship.  Taking Gary up on that offer turned into the best dang YES of my entire lifetime.  That,  I double-know for sure. Or, err, I know it for double-sure. (either or both, whichever sounds more know-y & for-sure-y)

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The invitation to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show – having the chance to thank Michael J. Fox – was largely happenstance.  Becoming a member of Team Fox for the NYC Marathon, being in a position to raise awareness & funds for The Michael J. Fox Foundation, that was by no means an accident.  This is a goal & a dream, a choice chock-full of intention & sincerity.  I have said Thank You, and now I am following my words up by taking action. I’ve been trying to become a member of Team Fox since 2010, but as it turns out, a whole heck of a lot of people would like to do the same. So, while I have done the NYC Marathon before (in 2010 & 2011 for Team LFF), – this time is very different. Not because I wasn’t crazy about raising funds & awareness for Leary Firefighters Foundation, because I was. I was excited & dedicated to that cause (& continue to be) & to every moment of those experiences. #DreamComeTrue #CheckOutMyFavoriteBridgeDescent

The 2015 NYC Marathon with Team Fox is especially dear because it’s a Life List Goal that’s been “on the books” for a long time, because it’s a Thank You for inspiration & motivation that changed not only how I look at myself & what I’m capable of, but how I view what’s possible. When I look back over everything I’ve done in my life up until now, the things that feel as if they made the most difference, the accomplishments I’m most proud of, almost all of those things happened because of the way I responded to the inspiration & motivation of others. Michael J. Fox is not the first or the only person to inspire me, but he is the person whose story intersected with mine in a way that made me realize I had – & continue to have – the power to write, direct, change, take charge of & drive my own story.

Which is the equivalent of someone giving you the key to opening the door to the hallway that holds every other door you’ll ever walk through. (yeah, yeah, I know, a mite hyperbolic – but you get the picture, right?)

I’ve done my best to pass everything on, whenever & wherever possible. Even this blog (that I doubt many people ever stumble upon, much less read an entire post), is a part of my efforts to continue paying forward all of the inspirational, motivational, door-unlocking-goodness I’ve received from others. Which is no small feat when you take into consideration that I’m not even – by nature, anyway – an optimist. I’m largely a realist, and the part of me that is not a realist just happens to have a remarkable imagination (for both better, and worse). I’m often able to list the most amount of reasons why something cannot or will not work in the least about of time. If there were an Olympic event or a prize for Worst Case Scenario Envisioning, I’d so grab the Gold for the USA.

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Okay, in this photo, I’m actually biting my 1st NYC Marathon Finisher’s Medal to make sure that it’s real – but this is basically how I’d look if I won that Worst Cast Scenario “Envisionor” Gold Medal. Even though I know I’d totally outdo any competition in my field, I’m so not-an-optimist that I’d still feel the need to double-check that I wasn’t being punked in my victory.

I’m not a pie-in-the-sky, we-can-do-anything-if-we-just-try-hard-enough kind of person by any means; I am absent of those genetic predispositions. I am a hoper & a dreamer, in the sense that I love stories, so I love to imagine things & I love to imagine them the way I want them to be. I love to imagine myself as doing good, doing better, making a difference. Believing my dreams can come true, achieving goals – I had to learn that. I learned by listening to other people’s stories. I learned by bearing witness to the way others live their lives & accomplish their goals & snag their Big Dreams. When I hope or wish or dream a new thing, my initial instinct is always that I don’t deserve it, that it will never happen, that I’m the worst of fools, that there’s no way in heck the thing could ever possibly be made real – maybe for somebody else, but not for me – who am I to dream such big dreams, set such “unreachable” goals? I have to keep telling myself the wish-goal-dream story, over & over, revising & re-envisioning. Sometimes I still can’t find a way through to the end that I hope for with even my best & most creative imagining. But I keep circling, I keep looking with new eyes. I keep circling & circling until I can see an “in,” a first step, a way to begin to envision the hope of possibility. Nothing about dreaming big & “going for it” comes naturally for me. I work on it constantly, and a lot of the time I fail miserably. But I keep at it. I’m stubborn that way.

Lately, I’ve been more than a little down on myself for not raising more money, because this – my taking-action pay-it-forward – matters so very much to me.  My health has not been cooperating (to say the least), hasn’t allowed me to pursue fundraising with the kind of “out-loud” vigor that matches my level of devotion to the cause. I feel as if I’m letting myself & Michael J. Fox (who doesn’t even know how much this thing matters to me) down. When I commit to something, I mean to give it everything I have, I want to do the thing “right.” When I feel like I’m unable to do my best because my health is holding me back, that’s when The Lie (that I’m not worthy, that I’m less-than) starts knocking on the door again. I keep trying to shut it up & shut it out. I keep telling myself that I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances. I keep circling; I keep looking. I keep steering the story toward the destination, keep trying to drive myself to The End that my heart feels drawn toward.

Here’s the thing with my current dream/goal: I know that I am absolutely doing my very best – in terms of the physical training for the marathon & in terms of raising funds & awareness – but I still want to be capable of more, I still wish I were doing better. I suppose the main thing right now is to keep believing what I know to be true. My best is & will be, somehow, enough. My best will be a worthy “Thank You.”

I’m still a long-a** freakin’-way from my fundraising goal of $10,000 & I don’t see how I’m going to meet it. I cannot envision a way from here to there, but you know what? I’m working on it. I’m maintaining a virtual “force field” against The Lie. I don’t have a clear path or plan, but I’m not giving up. Maybe I won’t reach my fundraising goal, but I will nonetheless make enough of a difference just by being present as a member of Team Fox & participating in the 2015 NYC Marathon with my “different but equal” abilities getting me from the Starting Line to the Finish Line. Maybe I will realize my pay-it-forward dream by raising enough money to meet my fundraising goal. Maybe I will realize my dream by accepting that the “pay” in pay-it-forward equals more than a sum of dollars can account for. I don’t yet accept that, but there’s still time. #YesIAmAWorkInProgress

That snip of video footage is a living-color reminder of how much I have to be grateful for, as well as the reason I am compelled & convicted in this quest to pay-it-forward.  I’ll keep holding out (perhaps foolish) hope that I’ll raise about $5,000-ish dollars between now & November 1st, when I ride in the NYC Marathon with Team Fox.  You have to admit, crazier, wilder, more unlikely things have happened …  I mean, I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show!  And Michael J. Fox HUGGED me!!!  That seems like pretty good proof of Anything Is Possible.

If you want to help my dream come true by contributing to my fundraising goal, please donate.  If you know some wonderful, generous, overall-gorgeous folks who are into that kind of thing – making seemingly impossible dreams come true – please spread the word that there’s this wonky woman (with a really cute service dog!) who’s trying to raise a whole-lotta moola in a really short period of time for a genuinely stellar & worthy cause:  the chance of maybe getting another hug from Michael J. Fox  Finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease.  #GoTeamFox

Thanks, y’all ~

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See?  Told you my service dog’s cute.  And totally rockin’ that Team Fox hat.

PS:  Luke thinks he’s the official mascot of Team Fox (I have no idea who gave him that idea).  Please don’t burst his bubble. He’s very proud of being chosen to represent. In Luke’s mind, he is the running fox of the MJFF Team Fox Logo.

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