1st May, 2002
MY DAUGHTER, ANSLEY, my sister, Marilyn, and I recently took a trip to Montreal, Quebec, so I could celebrate my 40th high school reunion. I especially looked forward to sharing Montreal with my American born and raised daughter, and introducing her to my former schoolmates.
We needed to plan for three aspects of our journey. First, and most difficult, was my daily care. By the time I was 53 years old, an electric wheelchair was my constant companion. MS had paralyzed my left side, weakened my right side, and stiffened my neck. I could bear no weight, and needed a caretaker strong enough to transfer my 150-pound body. I did not want my daughter and sister hurting their backs, nor spending their vacation taking care of me.
Secondly, I wanted to use daylight to our advantage for sightseeing and experiencing French culture. Thirdly, and most important to me, was participating in all reunion events.
The reunion occurred just 9 days after the terrorists' attack on the World Trade Center. The aggression on American soil had changed my cavalier, long-held attitudes of safety, and cast a dark shadow on our travel plans. For days I sat in my wheelchair, transfixed by horror, watching in disbelief, at the catastrophic television images of the World Trade Towers cascading to "Ground Zero." My paralyzed body emphasized my vulnerability. I questioned, "Would I be flying to Montreal? Would my flight be a lethal weapon chosen to destroy another American landmark?"
When not glued to the TV, I watched a friend walk from the bed where my suitcase lay to the closet and then back, unable to pack for myself.
Neither of us could focus on packing. For me, the terrorist attacks evoked the same strong emotions I'd experienced at age 14 when I was told my father had drowned. Disbelief. Horror. Fear. Like Alice in Wonderland, I stumbled down, down, down into a dark hole to a specific memory from the early 1950s. I recalled lying in bed, "snug as a 7year-old bug," waiting to fall asleep. Every once in awhile I heard the engine of a plane overhead.
Was it coming to bomb me? My overactive, young imagination combined with a radio overdose about World War II and the Korean War made me think I'd be dead the next morning. Of course, bombs never landed on my hometown of Calgary.
After the September 11 attacks, no one knew where or if bombs would detonate. I wandered, wheelchair-bound, in a wasteland of anxiety. My perceptions of safety from evil were destroyed like the Twin Towers. The gray, chalky dust that rained down on everything and everyone close to the World Trade Center also buried my beliefs and me.
On September 12, 2001, as I lay motionless in this rubble of horror and fear, I heard a small voice of love. Jane, an old roommate and good friend from my boarding school days, who now lived in Scotland, E-mailed me. She wanted to be reassured I was traveling from Denver to Montreal; did I think flying was safe? I answered, "Traveling anywhere might be scary, but our high school reunion and friendship rate much higher than fear."
Later, she jokingly proclaimed I upstaged everyone by arriving in my "Popemobile" (a rented, white handicapped-accessible van) attended by my ladies-in-waiting, Marilyn and Ansley. My "Popemobile," electric wheelchair, daughter, sister, classmates, and their husbands helped me dance the weekend away with friendship, laughter, love, and reminiscing.
We all missed classmates who did not make the reunion. Three in particular reminded me that life is difficult and painful, with or without MS: Linda died in 1995 from a brain tumor, Gillian lost her brother to brain cancer a week before our celebration, and Josette's son-in-law remains missing in the World Trade Center tragedy. With gratitude, all of us who attended the festivities sang proudly and loudly the three verses of our school song. The first four lines told the importance of our time together:
"Forty years on when afar and asunder Parted are those who are singing today. When we look back and forgetfully wonder What we were like in our work and our play."
Months after the attacks, plumes of smoke continue to cloud Ground Zero.
The terrorist acts in New York City, like my MS, will forever be part of
my 40th reunion, but what I remember best is my classmates' love for each
other and me. We fended off fear, and drank of the good life, learning
once again that love conquers all.
© 2002, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis