Hands off the Wheel

The nightmare went right for the gut.

There I was, sitting at the wheel of a car in a crowded parking lot. A car in motion, describing constant circles, not answering any of my attempts to steer.

Foot brakes? Forget it. Parking brake? Somewhere on here, but where? Each new lever or button seemed to make things more disastrous, popping the hood, opening the trunk, making it harder and harder to see the oncoming doom.

The crash was coming. And I couldn’t stop it.

Finally the dream had mercy. Moments before waking, my fingers found the “angel of mercy” brake and yanked up, bringing the car to a slow – of course it was slow – stop.

My eyes blinked open. Relief.

I was never touching that cold medicine again.

We all have our fundamental fears in life. I’ve seen people paralyzed by the presence of a friendly dog, or whose breath grew short in a closed-in space. I even interviewed a phlebotomist once, a professional blood tester, who used to have a deathly phobia of needles.

Me? Well, there are things that make me uncomfortable, like sharp objects or falling sensations. But the deepest, darkest, most basic fear I have – one I share with my wife – is losing control.

After all, I’ve seen some of the consequences.

I’m epileptic. It’s well-managed, to the point that I can live a normal life 99.99 percent of the time. I hold a job, raise a family, even drive a car.

But on those rare nights – only three of them so far, all while asleep, all when off medication for some reason – it’s like Dr. Frankenstein reached over and plugged in the lightning rod.

The mercy of a seizure, at least in my experience, is that you’re not aware of it while it’s going on. You don’t see the jerks and pulls, or hear the noises coming out of your mouth, or know about the bizarre behavior that goes on in the immediate aftermath. (Heather once called an ambulance because my seizure had gone on so long; as they started to put me on the stretcher, I picked myself up, walked to the bathroom, did my business, and came back, completely unconsciously.)

The aftermath: that you know about. If Peyton Manning ran four quarters of the Broncos offense over your body …  if you suntanned on a lane of I-25 at rush hour … if you’ve tried bungee jumping and forgotten that silly little detail about fastening the hook … then you’ve got an idea of what it feels like for three days after a seizure.

It is the loss of control personified. After all, how much more basic does it get than not being able to control your own body?

I hate it. And yes, fear it. Letting go is hard. Admitting I need help – with anything – is even harder.

But lately, I’ve had some reminders.

And most of them are named Missy.

If you read the column last week – or, let’s be honest, many of the ones before – you know our ward Missy, Heather’s developmentally disabled aunt. In many ways, she has control over very little of her life. She reaches for an arm to help her walk. She needs help in a hundred different ways every day, from tying her shoes to managing her home. And yes, there’s many times where it’s frustrating for her, where I can see her wanting to communicate something very simple and not quite knowing how.

But so many times, I see the joy instead.

When we gave Missy her big birthday bash last week, we remembered food and guests and all the usual items – but we also remembered a DJ. Because at her heart, Missy is a dancer, at home with loud music and open floors.

And for  three hours, with only short breaks, Missy danced. And danced. And danced some more.

They weren’t the moves of Baryshnikov or Astaire. They didn’t have to be. Just the bends and the sways and the slow spins of a person in gleeful ecstasy.

Missy had just enough control to reach joy. She didn’t need more. Maybe she even reached a deeper joy by letting go a little.

That’s something I need to remember.

Maybe I don’t always have to drive the car. Maybe, sometimes, it’s OK to just watch the road and enjoy the ride.

Once this cold medicine wears off, anyway.

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