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my turn

History Lessons

Windows to the past offer a new perspective for the future. BY JOHN SHUFF

I’ve looked multiple sclerosis in the face for the last 41

years, accepting the consequences of this disease, and living with it the best that I can. Over the years I’ve tried to act as normally as possible, determined to do anything practical to slow its insidious progress. One technique I’ve found helpful is visualization. I often find my mind wandering back to the days prior to being diagnosed with MS, those days when I was able-bodied, more participative, more physical. I’m not sure why these flashbacks are so vivid, but each one brings a new appreciation of the life I had—and the one I have now. I remember when the Helfter kids, our next door neighbor’s children in Buffalo, would come to the back door and ask me to play basketball with them. I was kind of the neighborhood Pied Piper, the guy who was always there when the kids wanted a pick-up game. I loved the interaction with the kids, especially the younger ones who played so intensely, always looking for approval. Today, I look back on those spontaneous games from the vantage point of a wheelchair—but I’m glad I was always willing to play. I remember the last round of golf I played 36 years ago at the Colgate National Pro-Am at Pinehurst, North Carolina. My partner was Lanny Wadkins, the affable pro golfer from Advance, North Carolina. We finished second. I never swung a club after that day as I collapsed the next week, and was on crutches after that. Today, I look at the trophy I took home from that event with the realization that living in the past is unproductive. What really matters is how to live with an uncertain future. I remember telling my wife from a phone booth outside the Mayo Clinic in 1975 that I had just been diagnosed with MS. I remember standing with the phone in my hand, crying uncontrollably, the tears coming out of nowhere. I had no idea

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what was in front of me and my young family, only that our lives had changed forever in that one instant. I was tall— 6’3”—but I did not know then that the remainder of my life would be lived in a wheelchair looking up, not down. That perspective has helped me understand how some children feel—small and insignificant—surrounded by adults towering over them like giant Sequoias. I remember when a man named Shelly (I’ve forgotten his last name) stopped by the office and invited me to spend a morning in a public school in Delray Beach to offer a little “outsider” feedback to the principal. My first question was, “Are the schools accessible?” He inquired what my disability was. “MS,” I said, and there was dead silence as his head dropped. When he lifted his face, his eyes were full of tears. He told me that his son, at age 40, had been institutionalized for the last 10 years with MS. He was now totally paralyzed, requiring him to be fed and diapered. It was then I recalled a saying of my dad’s: “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.” Despite all the changes in my life, I have learned there is one constant, and that is hope. It is a hope driven by the premise that our lives will not get better unless we take control to make them better. You must become the changeagent in your life, drawing on your own strength to cope with the adversity that you will face. Pray for the fortitude to improve your tomorrow by taking responsibility for your own happiness. Most of all, never throw in the towel, never give up, never quit. A nun I worked closely with once said to me something I’ve never forgotten, “Mr. Shuff, remember life is not John Shuff and family a problem to be solved, but a miracle to be lived.”

Salt Lake Magazine Sept Oct 2016  
Salt Lake Magazine Sept Oct 2016