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Sunday, October 14, 2012

How are you?

These three little words are most often used as a greeting.  When you ask someone, "How are you?" you aren't expecting that person to tell you how they are really feeling at that moment.  So the correct response to that question is almost always, "Fine, thanks!"  Right?   You might add, "And you?" but you really aren't expecting an answer.  And that is OK.  It is good to be friendly and polite.  It is good to greet one another, and "How are you?" is like saying, "Hi!"

So, what if a person is asking because they really want to know?  Sometimes that happens.  If someone comes into your office, closes the door, sits down, looks you in the eye, and says, "How are you?" it probably means that they are doing more than saying "Hi!"  So how do you respond?  Do you lay it all out?  It's hard to know.  If you do, and you see the person's eyes glass over, or they can't stifle a yawn, chances are they've heard enough.  I have found that it helps to say something like, "Well, what would you like to know?"  Then I can just respond to what they are really interested in knowing.

I am an active, believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I'm a Mormon and proud of it.  I may not vote like most Utah Mormons, but I'm as Mormon as anybody in my Draper ward.

I go to church with a bunch of really nice people and I live in a great neighborhood full of really good people.  I can look around the chapel on Sunday, or walk through the neighborhood on any given day, and find people with really serious stuff going on.

My friend, Alisa Houmand
Today, before Sacrament meeting, I saw Alisa Houmand playing the prelude music on the organ.  Alisa is a beautiful young woman with a great musical gift.  I walked up to the organ, got her attention, looked her in the eye, and asked, "How are you?"  Well, she doesn't need to look at the music, or at the keys of the organ to play beautifully, so she just kept playing while she gave me a "knowing" look and said, "About the same."  Alisa has leukemia.  Much of the time she feels like crap and her life is very much at risk.  She has been on a form of chemotherapy for quite a while.  Very regularly she goes into the hospital where they take a plug of bone out of her hip to extract and test some bone marrow.  It really hurts.  I asked her if she is still on track for the bone marrow transplant that she is waiting for.  She explained that she is still on track, and she went on to explain "I am finally on disability from work."  She recently moved from her place in our neighborhood and moved in with her parents.  This means that she can focus her energy on fighting her cancer.  If you didn't know Alisa, you would never guess that she is going through this ordeal.  She is extremely warm and cheerful.  She has a great sense of humor.  She is constantly thinking of others and reaching out to help them, including Gerrí and me.  If you ask her, "How are you?" you will get, "Fine!"  But the fact is that she is not totally fine.  She is sick and hurting and probably a little scared.  But she also has faith that the bone marrow transplant will be successful, and that she will beat the cancer and move on with her life.  She is an inspiration to me and she's "fine thanks."

My friend Steve Brady
Another neighbor and friend of mine lives just around the block.  His name is Steve Brady.  He is a very good man who just happens to be a quadriplegic and has been for many years since his successful career as an eye surgeon ended after a devastating 4-wheeling ATV accident.  If you ask Steve, "How are you?" he always responds that he is fine.  But he struggles everyday with the limitations, challenges, and the pain that accompanies his paralysis.  That's right; people who are paralyzed can be in great pain all the time.  You'd think that if their nerves were damaged and they didn't have feeling in most of their body, that they wouldn't have to suffer pain.  But that isn't true.  He is a real hero to many of us - a real profile in faith and courage.  While I'm sure that he appreciates how we admire him, in a more quiet moment he would say that he gets depressed and wishes it would all go away, and that there are times when he just doesn't think he can face another day.  But, he just takes it a day at a time and maintains his faith and good attitude as well as he can.  We were visiting a few weeks ago and he told me that he had a conversation with another good neighbor.  He told me that they were contemplating whether or not he would be around 10 years from now.  Quadriplegics are not known for their longevity and he has been dealing with this for about 15 years.  They pretty much concluded that they would not be having a conversation 10 years from now.  We discussed the fact that ALS patients live, on average, 3-5 years from the time they are diagnosed, but that my ALS seems to be progressing relatively slowly - so I could stretch several more years out of this experience.  We decided it would be fun to start a neighborhood pot.  We could sell dates by month and year to anyone who wanted to bet on which of us is the first to "kick the bucket."  The person who bets on the right person, and buys the date that is closest to the "exit" date would win the pot.  Dark humor?  Morbid?  Maybe, but what it means is that Steve is "fine thanks."

After Sacrament Meeting today, I ran into Mark Selman.  Mark and Laurie have four great kids.  Their oldest, Lexe, is in a real battle for her life.  Mark, Laurie, Lexe, and the whole family are fighters.  How are they?  Battle ready.  Surrender is not in their vocabulary.  I could never describe this situation better than what you can see in this youtube video.

You really need to take a few minutes to watch this.  After you do, you don't have to guess how they would answer the question, "How are you?"  Her chemo treatments have been extremely dangerous.  Death's door has opened a few times through this ordeal, and Lexe keeps slamming it shut.  Mark, Laurie, and Lexe are an inspiration to all of us, and you can bet that they are going to be just "fine thanks."

After reading these stories you can guess how I am doing.  I guess I'm feeling kind of philosophical about everything.  What I have going on right now is light-weight compared to these folks.  In earlier posts I have written about other friends who have taken on major health challenges and come out winners.  With struggles like these there are no guarantees.  Some people don't make it.  I don't have to go through drastic chemotherapies that are almost worse than the disease they target.  There is no cure for ALS.  In future posts I will try to describe, for as long as I can, my physical condition as the ALS progresses.  Not everything that I will describe will be pleasant or fun, but that doesn't mean that I'm not just "fine thanks."

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