James Pinsky: Second chances: Embrace what you love

James Pinsky

I have never taken a column for granted. This one even more so.

Just a few days ago I was faced with the chance, however minute, that I could have what can only be described as a wretched disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

It is a heartless killer that takes away everything except your mind, knowing full well you will lose yours as this devil of a disease steals your sense of touch, your physical strength and, day-by-day your hope. For about two months I had to seriously consider it would be a demon I may possess.

During these past few months I went through so many different emotions. I cried. I threw fits of rage. I sulked. I even tried to run. Then, I realized that my anger, my sadness and my denial of what could be was robbing me of what precious few days I might have left on this Earth. So, I stopped crying. I stopped running. I stopped giving up, and I decided to live my life as fully and as genuinely as I could in what I can best describe as an ultimate sense of defiance to this evil.

When you think you will die soon life smells so much sweeter, and it is this experience that I want to share with you with the hope that my journey’s destination can be yours without the heartache and fear.

As a conservationist, let me tell you, after you learn to savor those you love, you embrace what you love. For me, it was and always will be our natural world.

For most of my life, I took a soft summer breeze for granted. I overlooked a squirrel’s woodland charm, and I often ignored the heavenly sounds of God’s natural choir, our beloved song birds. I looked upon our majestic Shenandoah mountains as if they will always be there, and I will always see them. I saw hawks, deer, and bears as common things instead of the absolute miracles of life they are.

Then, I thought I was going to die.

The moment you think you may die, the first thing you do is try to find the slow-motion button on your life. Why? Because you know how good of a life you have lived and you suddenly realize how ungrateful you have been. But as some of you know all too well, there is no stopping time no matter how healthy or sick you may be. Instead, what I learned was to change my priorities. No longer was the very next thing what mattered most to me. No, what matters most to me is now. The next second will come whether I am ready or not. Sometimes it will prolong a wonderful moment, like seeing a new-born fawn learn to make its way through the forest; or, it may provide an early dismissal to something you’d rather not endure. Regardless, the seconds tick and time marches on, stoic to the hopes, dreams, or fears we may have.

As a conservationist, I know it is my duty to help protect Mother Nature. It is something I will do until I can do no more. Sometimes it was something I told myself I could do tomorrow instead, but now I know just as my tomorrows may be cut short, so too can Mother Nature’s if we ignore our opportunities to experience her, to protect her and to save her.

Just a few days ago I thought I might die, and when the next second came, like it always does, it helped dismiss something I knew I’d rather not endure. You see, I found out my pain, my agony, and my loss of touch wasn’t from ALS. No, it was from an injury I sustained a few years ago in the U.S. Navy from a serious fall. The injury had progressed, pressing into my spinal cord and was slowly taking my body away from me. The good news is today’s modern medicine can heal me, and by doing so these doctors will give me what I thought no one ever could – more time.

So, for the next few months I may seem faint to you. I may whisper. I may walk softly, and I may simply smile in times where I might usually talk. Please forgive me for this as I heal. I’m told I will come back stronger than I ever was.

There are thousands of much more deserving souls in this world who get no such good news when it comes to ALS. I am remarkably fortunate, but grateful. As such, I know that what I must do with this second chance is to help others not need one. So, for the rest of my life, however long that may be, I’ll be the one fighting for change now. I will savor that soft breeze now. I will stop now and give thanks for that beautiful view I have every day when I drive from Fauquier County into Shenandoah, and I hope my actions inspire you.

I am thankful not to have ALS. However, thousands of Americans do and we can help find a cure. To learn more about this disease and how you can help, please visit the ALS Association website at www.alsa.org

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.