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early break

October 1, 2019

I first knew someone when he was about 20 years younger than I am now.

He was elegant, smart, and did not think so much of me, although I thought the world of his daughter. There may have been a connection there, as we grew to be great good friends over the intervening decades – he and his daughter.

Before I met him his daughter told me he had had had polio over forty years before I met him. I could not tell. But as the years went by, the vestiges of his conquered polio were in concert with a genetic neurological condition that rendered feelings in his extremities an ebbing reality.

As he lost feeling up his legs and his hands, he worked out like the thoroughbred he was: he was both a player and a soccer ref, and was ever in diligence and good spirits.

He knew, I am guessing from his daughter, that I had a childhood condition, too. My family was a tough place, all based on my father’s own childhood, and his unrelenting high-functioning alcoholism.

I, like like my friend, showed no ill effects. I, like he, saw the effects of our childhood conditions manifest themselves over the next 50 years. My friend did not die because of his polio, nor his progressive genetic deterioration of limb function. He simply was a human who lived as long as his body and mind could function, and then ceased to live.

There is danger in comparisons, but not here, to me.

As I grew older, those I grew up with showed our conditions more and more. One never drank, seldom left home and lives, protected, and safe. Another drank, drugged, married, and never stopped searching for peace, but gave up letting anyone into her personal life,

Through their experience, and the experience of others, I have come to know my own condition. A friend said last night, who is trained to know these things, that children in toxic and cruel childhoods inevitably live out the damage done to them in some ways. Inevitably. It makes sad sense that affliction affects development. We simply cannot do in the world what the unaffected can, so we adapt. We are changed.

And it struck me; just as my friend, I had no choice in my condition. His polio was early, his genetic effects were constant.

We both had an early break from an untouched, “normal” childhood.

Both of us had faith in things far, far greater than ourselves: Our extreme good fortune, even the results of our diligence. He and I shared effort, and many efforts succeeded, but not all. Through it we were loved. Here, by those around us, but also those we can only sense.

But the others from my family, and others that I have come to know, have not had the fortune we both had. Some of those simply died young in isolation and pain, another killed herself. Others are coping, some deeply into medication, therapy and, often despair.

My friend and I exercised every every early morning, and wrote – because, well, we knew it extended our lives here on earth. I cannot call it therapy. But it is coping with things we cannot control. Ever.

They cured my friend’s polio, but he was damaged by it. I left a cruel place and made another, but was damaged too. We are both inevitably were shaped by what God made in us, and what He made in the world.

We all have choices, but some things we simply have, like it or not.

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