Jim Eicher (right) on Royals opening day
People with disabilities are some of the most self-aware people you will ever meet. We know that our disability makes many people uncomfortable, and we understand why. You want to be sensitive, but not obtuse, and accommodating, but not patronizing. Again, we understand that, and wish it weren’t that way, but we don’t fault you. We’re uncomfortable too.
This discomfort drives many disabled people underground. It’s easier for us to stay in our comfort zones and avoid that awkwardness. It takes real courage to put our disabilities on display, and one of the most courageous people I’ve seen in a while is Michael J. Fox.
Fox was recently on the Jimmy Kimmel Show talking about Back to the Future, a 1985 movie in which he starred, and its predictions for 2015. Thirty years ago, the writers of that movie predicted that the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series in 2015, and we would have hover boards and self-tying shoes. The recent attention focused on that movie, because of its predictions, brought Michael J. Fox back into the spotlight.
In the mid-1980s and for several years after that, there were few actors as charismatic as Michael J. Fox. He was the star of the television series Family Ties and movies such as The Secret of My Success and Doc Hollywood, in addition to Back to the Future. In almost every role he played, he was cast as a bright, quick-witted life of the party. The interviews and appearances he did back then showed that his personality matched his stage presence. Then, Parkinson’s disease began to take its toll.
Parkinson’s affects Fox’s speech, movements and facial expressions – all of which create charisma. He is as sharp as ever, but it’s now very difficult for him to express himself in the ways he once did. Yet, there he was, in front of not only a live studio audience, but a television audience as well. He knows what Parkinson’s looks like on him, but instead of hiding in shame, he performed on a popular late-night talk show, and the audience loved him.
How often do we let our fears of outside perceptions rob us of rewarding experiences like this? We don’t like to let others see our weaknesses, which are only a small part of who we are, so we hide. When we hide, we not only rob ourselves of rewarding experiences, we rob the world of experiencing us.
My friend Jim Eicher was a courageous person too. Jim died earlier this year of complications from his battle with Hodgkin lymphoma, just short of his 50th birthday and 10th wedding anniversary. Jim was an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful man who eventually married his high school sweetheart and became a caring father to her children. He was also a life-long fan of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. He religiously followed that team, even when they were MLB basement dwellers.
In April of this year, he attended the Royal’s Opening Day game with some friends. By this time, he was struggling tremendously with his health. He had lost part of his lungs to the disease, and the treatment he endured for more than 20 years had taken its toll on the rest of his body. He pulled an oxygen tank with him to his seat in Kauffman Stadium, but he was there to cheer on the team that nearly won the World Series the year before. A month later, he collapsed and died in front of a jewelry store on his way to pick up an anniversary present for his wife. (read that incredible story here) Six months later, the Royals won the World Series.
Jim could have watched that April game on television, and Michael J. Fox could have passed on the opportunity to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, but they didn’t. They didn’t let weakness rob them of life. We should all be as courageous.