By Paul Steffan
What do you say to a friend who has been visited by misfortune – someone you’ve known for years who had a death in the family, lost a job or discovered he had a serious health issue?
I was saddened when I read about Buffalo broadcasting legend Irv Weinstein and his battle with ALS, but I was also encouraged by the attitude he displayed as he expressed gratitude for a great life.
I know a bit about these situations. I recently took medical leave from my sales job as the symptoms of my Parkinson’s have become too much to ignore. My wife, after having been misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis, has been struggling with spinocerebellar ataxia (learn more at ataxia.org.)
We kid each other that we are the poster couple for neurologic disease. Maybe someday we’ll discover some kind of common link, but for now we take it one day at a time.
Most people have difficulty handling this when I run into them out and about. They either ignore it or nervously ask about it, not sure how deep to probe before exceeding their own comfort level or what they perceive as mine.
I don’t mind talking about it. People invariably tell me of their own ailments and how time’s relentless march has worn on them. Or, searching for a common thread, they’ll tell me about a friend or family member who also had Parkinson’s, ataxia, MS, cerebral palsy, brain cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia or any of a myriad of other health issues.
I remind them that everyone has got something, and we deal with it in our own way. Often I’ll hear how sorry they are to hear about it and that it’s such a shame to work so long only to get sick when retirement is around the corner.
Here is what we do like to hear: “We’re thinking of you.” “It’s your positive attitude that will make the difference.” “Pray for us, we’ll pray for you.” “Somehow we’ll all get through this together.” Or my favorite, “Everything is going to be all right.”
My wife and I are on this road for a reason, or maybe for no reason at all. I told the boys on the Pirates (I love coaching baseball) that we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it.
I don’t pray for a cure, although I wouldn’t say no to one. I do pray for tolerance, patience, understanding, courage and the awareness that somehow I can turn a bad break into a good thing.
We know what we’re up against, believe me. But we know that dwelling on the negative won’t help. We try not to think of what the future holds in a year from now, let alone five or ten, God willing. We need to hang on to the idea that the odds of a breakthrough are as likely as not.
Our time frame is 24 hours. Today. We’ll make each 24-hour segment of our future the best we can because, like everyone, there are no guarantees past that.
So Irv, our hearts go out to you. If anyone is up to the challenges of ALS, we know you are. You were a part of our life every night and anyone who claims the title of “Buffalonian” has at his or her core a piece of Irv Weinstein.
We’re all dealing with something, and the dignified way in which he has chosen to handle this is an inspiration to us all. Someday we’ll have all the answers. Today we’ll have to rely on faith.
Paul Steffan and his wife, Linda, have been taking it one day at a time together for the last 30 years. They live in Williamsville.