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 those who know sickness.
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, this one 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 My great expectations have been replaced by a newer cold reality.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.
And then I walk by a mirror and wonder.
Follow Richard M. Cohen on Twitter at rmcjourneyman.