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Patrick Henry: Writing helps me keep shrinking world at bay

It’s said that we should never stop learning, even as we age, but as someone with a progressive and chronic disease, I’m learning that some lessons are less fun than others. Before you turn the page to avoid another’s sob story, be advised that I consider myself a lucky man, and that you, dear reader, are one reason why.

My condition is such that I can, with the loving support of a strong and beautiful woman, lead a fairly normal life. I just don’t get around much anymore. As my health declines my world shrinks as well, and coming to grips with that fact has been a challenge. As my physical world continues to contract, I’ve been forced to find ways to expand my mental and emotional worlds.

I’ve been told that in my situation attitude is everything, and whatever you wish to call them – aphorisms, maxims, adages, clichés – many well-traveled pieces of advice have come my way.

• “Things could be worse.” I use this when I spot someone worse off than I, or better yet, when remembering that I could be living in a Third World country lacking good medical care.

• “God (or the universe, or whomever) doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Not a fan of this one. I have friends who were not up to the challenge life laid at their feet, and who’s to say where the blame for that should fall?

• “When handed lemons …” This one I needn’t finish, and it is true. I’m fortunate to live in a spacious home on a lovely, tree-lined, dead-end street. Enjoying time spent at home has become a recipe for lemonade. As someone who always loved to read and who learned to love movies while working at the Circle & Glen Art theaters, I take full advantage of the county’s wonderful library system. Its collection of visual and literary treasures is yours for the asking. A catalog search and two clicks of the mouse mean that books and DVDs will be delivered within days to my local branch, and with them come many hours spent at home enriched by the best minds the world has to offer.

• “When one door closes, another opens.” Here’s another one that works for me. My wife had long been after me to try writing something more than the occasional letter to the editor. Being stuck at home, and in a comfortable den with a desk and a computer, sounds like an opportunity, nay a challenge, to write, and it’s one I’ve embraced. With Camille’s encouragement – she’s my first and best reader - I’ve finished a half-dozen short stories in the past few months. It appears that I’m becoming a shut-in who can’t shut up, literally and literarily.

I’m following the advice new writers often get – i.e., the only way to become a writer is to write, and the only way to write is to chain yourself to your desk each day and hope that your muse shows up. To my surprise, she did.

That’s not to claim that she’s done a great job. So far only family and friends have been exposed to the results, and they, as you might expect, have been kind. Their reactions, while sincere, remind me of that old saw about people praising a dog who walks on its hind legs – it’s not so much that he does it well, but that he can do it at all.

Come to think of it, given that you’ve read this far, perhaps my muse is doing a better job than I thought.

Patrick Henry, of Orchard Park, is a retired civil servant grateful for public-funded libraries and Medicare.