And just as I learned that there is often no predicting who might be afflicted with cancer, I was reminded that just a few generations ago, there was no predicting who might be afflicted with polio. On our trip to Maine, we spent a very rainy morning in New Brunswick, on Campobello Island exploring Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s summer cottage. This was where FDR fell ill with polio in 1921 at the age of thirty-nine. Polio affects swiftly, and in FDR’s case it was only three days from symptoms first appearing to his being paralyzed irreversibly from the waist down. In just over seventy-two hours, he went from being a healthy person to an invalid. And while he never recovered fully, he did go on to become one of America’s most popular presidents during one of the darkest times in our history, his disability deftly hidden even while his bout with the disease was well-known.
Flash-forward to this week, when I found myself scrolling the headlines on the BBC. A story caught my eye about a man who had spent forty-five years - his entire life, effectively - in the hospital after contracting polio as an infant. In spite of requiring an artificial respirator every moment of his life since then, Paulo Henrique Machado has managed to become a computer animator and to forge deep bonds with the other polio-afflicted children he grew up with in the hospital in Brazil. One by one those friends succumbed to infection, until today, only he and his dear friend Eliana Zagui remain. Together they have had many brief adventures outside of the hospital and are currently collaborating on a film project that tells their story.
This is such a beautiful story and it made me more mindful of the excuses I make rather than accomplishing what I set out to do. We all make excuses, certainly: I’m too tired. The weather’s bad. There is something more important. It’s so hot. I don’t have enough time. That last one’s my crutch, or perhaps my crux.* As I struggle to add the demands of work back into my life after a relatively lazy summer, I’m going to try to remember Paulo and Eliana, and their proof that life is what you make of it, and nothing less and nothing more.
*crux = an essential point requiring resolution