This line comes from Michael J. Fox’s most recent memoir, No Time Like The Future which I’ve just completed (after it being kindly gifted to me by my good friend and unofficial book group member, GH). It is now thirty years since MJ Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and in this, his fourth book he explores what he’s learned about life as he enters his third decade as a husband to his wife Tracy and father to his four adult children.
The book isn’t easy reading, although it’s beautifully written (dictated) and unsentimental, the contents of the chapters include his battles with a spinal tumour, various accidents and the gradual decline of the functions we take for granted when we are able-bodied.
MJ Fox gives us an unvarnished picture of the frustrations and indignities of living with a degenerative disease and what happens when he doesn’t give it the respect it deserves…THAT is when it really makes its presence felt. On one such occasion when he returns to his New York City apartment in preparation for some exciting filming with the unparalleled director Spike Lee in a humorous and knowing cameo performance, he confidently dismisses his adult daughter because ‘he can cope on his own for a night’.
The resulting hubristically-induced injury impacts his every day existence for the next six months, involves 24 hour caring support and plenty of time to catch up on box-sets (and the fallacy of being too cocky). He says frankly along with spinal surgery and the loss of his father-in-law this event made 2018 his ‘annus horribilis’ echoing Britain’s monarch.
Ending, as the book does, in August 2020 brings home to the reader what a challenging year it has been for everyone, many of the things we take for granted changed and largely denied, altered or just shut down. It’s hard not to parallel what has happened to the world with what is gradually befalling Fox but – and this is the really important but – what we see through the book is his sense of optimism and hope and where that hope comes from.
His father-in-law Stephen Pollan had a phrase, “just wait kiddo, it get’s better” and it’s impossible to read this honest and open book without seeing that largely it does. The thing I’m thinking about the most as I reflect on this book is that most things don’t get better by accident, we have to DO something about them to really make a difference.
Since he started the Michael J Fox Foundation, his team’s efforts to raise and commit funding for Parkinson’s Disease research has yielded one billion dollars to medical science – how’s that for a legacy?
MJ Fox finds that when he looks back, he doesn’t do so with regret, but with amazement – despite his early-onset diagnosis he has been able, with sone encouragement, to return to small screen roles in Spin City, The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He realised that the George Bernard Shaw quote that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ isn’t true in his case, he loved his daredevil youth, he didn’t have time to waste too much time as he – in his own words – went from young to old overnight.
The closing sentiment is something that will stay with me and is the reason I wanted to share this book with you:
“We can all take something positive from the Class of 2020; to accept what has happened in the past, to embrace the present and to remain open to the probability that it will get better in the future. I hear echoes of Stephen in that advice: With gratitude, optimism becomes sustainable.
Although the pandemic is still with us, we need to try and remain optimistic for ourselves, our families, our friends and our communities. After all the hope of the vaccine is here and is being distributed, we’re into February AND the days are getting noticeably longer.
That’s worth some optimism isn’t it?