When we don’t decide

It has become incredibly easy for me not to decide on things over the past 15 years. If you go to any website that addresses issues related to multiple sclerosis, you have to go way down on the list of issues to find anything about this problem, if you find it there at all. When Paul was first diagnosed, we got a second opinion from among the best in the field of neurology who specialized in treatment of MS. She told us that his particularly pernicious strain of the illness would likely take him in about three years.

Paul and Gary 122014I always counted us fortunate that we got more than 10 years more than her prediction. Paul had a different assessment: he was just more stubborn and intelligent than MS. I think we were both right.

Over the course of the illness, however, we found many of our decisions became less and less relevant. We might decide to go to lunch, only to discover we could not park close enough to get inside without getting drenched in the rain. Oh, I could push his chair really fast, but transfers to and from the car were just too slow and there is just no way to navigate an umbrella. There were holidays planned and cancelled, tickets forfeited, and late night dashes to emergency rooms. One time I decided to have floors refinished while he was in a nursing home following a long hospital stay. Then, in the middle of a completely disrupted house full of saw dust, I had a heart attack and was hospitalized three blocks from his nursing facility.

Not deciding seemed a somewhat safer bet after a while.

It was that way with social engagements, too. It became such a practice that after Paul died, I found it tricky for more than a year to decide to do things with anyone. If I wanted to see a film, I checked a schedule, threw on a coat, and walked out the door. It felt like actually arranging ahead of time to do something was just – well – unnatural.

My behavior has improved somewhat and I am now deciding to say “Yes” to things more frequently and well ahead of time. When my friend Blanche invited me to see a film last week, I agreed almost automatically. It felt for a moment like I was winding back the clock to a pre-MS era. Last night we were joined by two friends to see a showing of 30-Seconds Away at the Avalon Theater in Bay View.

HomelessThis documentary by Director Faith Kohler is remarkable in many ways. Filmed in Milwaukee’s downtown and near Southside, it follows the lives of several homeless men, a couple of whom die during the six years the project took to complete. Because of my former work in a public health organization and because I tend to notice homeless people as people, I knew their faces and the name of one of the men.

When we don’t decide to address homelessness head on, it persists.

The car ride home was quieter than the one to dinner and the theater. A car of four activists (though none of us would likely call ourselves that) in education, HIV prevention, and poverty, had a fifth passenger – homelessness. At the end of the showing, the sponsor of the event asked that everyone in the audience “lift just a little” to lighten the load of those already working to end homelessness.

But in the darkness of the car, I was thinking, “This is what happens when we don’t decide.”

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