A Diminished Man

A diminished man lives upstairs at my house. My long war with multiple sclerosis and  two skirmishes with colon cancer have taken their toll on my body.  I am less than I was. And my spirit has suffered.  The battle for the body inevitably spreads to the mind.  Hanging on to self-esteem becomes the endless struggle for the sick.

Shooting wars have been fought with invading cancer cells.  Myelin sheaths continue to peel away from motor and sensory nerves, short-circuiting impulses and robbing my body of function.  Yet, another conflict rages in my head.  My old swagger, my boundless self-confidence are missing, and I so want them returned to me.  The world was mine, and I traveled it widely, covering news for television. The lens was true, the focus sharp. Now I am gone from the business, and the shot has faded to black.

Producers produce and are tough and independent, expected to jump from airplanes without parachutes and hit the ground running. I was young and foolish enough to do just that. My world is smaller now, as am I. My camera is turned inward, and I do not feel good about what I see.

I am a creature of the limited life, a man who cannot see clearly or walk strongly and, so, cannot participate in all too many of his life’s passions.  I no longer compete in the marketplace, and my relationship with my family and friends has been altered.

The pursuit of self-esteem is a dangerous journey across emotional minefields. Coming to grips with who I am is painful. My great expectations have been replaced by a newer cold reality.  I outran the reach of MS longer than I had reason to expect.  Inevitably, illness caught up and worked its magic.

The long march is reflected in the eyes of my children, the arms of my wife. I am not in this alone. Loved ones map my life because mine is theirs. Our journeys are together, intertwined forever.  We make it up as we go along. My children know what I can no longer do and accept life’s changes.   They are grown and gone now.    Age is a leveler.  We relate on a more cerebral level that brushes away painful limitations.

What defines a diminished person?

There is no easy answer.  I want to believe that teaching my children about life, many times by example mattered.  Going to work each day, regardless of how I felt, offered an important life lesson.  To my kids, I think, I was strong, not diminished.  Acting as role model and showing grace and humor in the face of adversity mean more than driving a car.  My kids grew up watching my struggle and did not miss a beat.

Our kids are spread around the country and world now.  Our bond is strong.  We talk frequently, comparing notes on politics, sports, culture and ideas.  I dedicated my first two books to their mother and them.  They are proud.  Maybe my physical shortcomings have faded to irrelevance.  Who we really are stands in our souls, not in our sneakers.

Then I walk by a mirror and wonder.

12 Responses to A Diminished Man

  1. Nancy Cincotta January 9, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

    Richard,
    You are a beautiful writer.
    Nancy

    • Richard January 10, 2014 at 7:42 am #

      It is a beautiful life. Thank you.

      Best,
      R.

  2. Nicole Lemelle January 9, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

    Mr. Cohen,

    I appreciate and respect your perspective here. It’s our shared truth. Thank you

    Nicole

    • Richard January 10, 2014 at 7:46 am #

      N-

      The emotional fallout from illness is universal. These are shared emotions and fears.

      Best,
      R.

  3. David January 10, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Richard,

    Your piece about a diminished man really touched me.I could relate to so many things you said,coming to grips with my reality is painful too.

    In the beginning of my journey a friend gave me some good advice. Never compare yourself to what you were,it will only make you sad for all you have lost.

    She also reminded me that although I cant walk or run or be active with my wife and children like before, I can still love all of them , maybe even more.

    Still we will never give up

    Hope is my habit!

    • Richard M. Cohen January 17, 2014 at 8:40 pm #

      You are strong. Bless you.

      Peace,
      R.

  4. Geof January 10, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    I am confused by “diminished person.”

    I have come to believe we may lose our ability to do or purchase. We may lose some of the titles and the roles of our youth, but this only diminishes us to the point they ever defined us. I chose to define myself by whom I love and who loves me. The close relationships with ones who know me are that which matter, which define me.

    I will lose my ability to work. I may have even greater memory issues. I will lose my ability to run and feel free. I may not have any money. Still, I will be me. If I am lucky, I will still have the love of my family and friends. If I am very lucky, I will have experiences and wisdom to pass along. This is how I chose to define myself. The rest is but fluff society uses to pigeon hole the value of a life.

    As for self respect, know you have the admiration of many, both inside and outside of your family. None of us can give you self respect, but many like myself, admire your writing and the lives you have described.

    • Ken January 10, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      We may lose some of the titles and the roles of our youth, but this only diminishes us to the point they ever defined us

      I am confused by “diminished person.”

      Hi Geof.

      I see your point, but, at the same time, regardless, “diminished” is still a fact

      there are “real” losses, with this disease, and there is a need to redefine what your life now is made of.

      I believe it is necessary to live life one day at a time, more than it ever was, we need to take this, day by day or even moment by moment and focus on what is still “good” in this life. no “future tripping” cause we can’t know what that future will be.

      love the way Richard writes, and “diminished” is a fair statement, take care,,,

      • Mimi January 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

        I read Blindsided, Strong at the Broken Places, and I Want to Kill the Dog (which was hilarious by the way). Now I’m hooked on your blog.

        This post actually made me cry because you expressed my own feelings with such accuracy that I had to catch my breath and remind myself that you were talking about yourself and not me. The power of your pen is incredible.

        So your writing has made me laugh, think, and cry. Diminished isn’t the word anyone would use to describe you, the writer.

      • Richard M. Cohen January 17, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

        Thanks.

        My best,
        R.

    • Kerri January 11, 2014 at 8:59 am #

      Relationships are indeed the core of life and why we do everything else. The issue, Geof, is that love is not only a feeling, but actions. Over time, the lack of ability to show/give love even affects the ability to receive it. Other emotions like grief and guilt are left in its place. And that’s when things get complicated. We can be grateful and mourn at the same time.

    • Richard M. Cohen January 17, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

      Thanks.

      My best,
      R.