When I left DJ I was determined to become a devout Christian. I went to church once a week. I carried my New Testament with me and read it regularly. If I’m honest though, without the push I was getting from DJ, I took a more relaxed view of religion. I knew God loved me and I loved Him. That was all I needed. What gave me the philosophical push away from Christianity was – well. There’s a story there.
I can remember being, oh I want to say I was 10 or 11 when Dad first started shaking. At first it was localised in his left thumb (which I didn’t notice) and then moved to his left hand (which was hard to miss). In an age before Google, Dad went from specialist to specialist to find a diagnosis. He went to a chiropractor because he’d been told he had a trapped nerve. He went to a psychologist because it was all in his head. He had more and more random tests – including a Spinal Tap – without any clue as to why the shaking was creeping through his limbs. From one hand, it spread to another. Then it moved to his feet. His body trembled.
Finally he went to Mayo Clinic when they took one look at him and said, “Parkinson’s Disease”. Parkinson’s disease is caused by the death of nerve cells in the substantia nigra – which is part of the brain. How and why this happens is still not known. There is a genetic factor which increases a person’s risk of developing the disease but there may be environmental or other reasons why a person develops the disease – including cerebrovascular disease where a series of small strokes cause several parts of the brain to die. Treatment back when Dad was first diagnosed (the early 1980s) was some tablets to help manage his symptoms. Tablets which have distressing side effects: confusion, hallucinations, involuntary movements and memory loss. Looking at the Parkinson’s UK Website, I can see that treatments have moved on since Dad’s time – but there is no cure and, although Dad had a number of health problems by the time he died at the tender age of 64, he really started his downward turn in his 30s with Parkinson’s. By the time I finished high school, Dad had moved from his job inside the factory to being a security guard (for health reasons) and was on the verge of taking retirement on medical grounds.
Dad was a wonderful man in many respects but when he just kept refusing to believe that he was as sick as he actually was, I found him to be a real handful. Once, he called me up out of the blue and, delirious with happiness, he said that he’d been cured. WOW! That’s fantastic! Have you had a surgery or something that you didn’t tell me about?“No! I’ve been to church and by the Grace of God I have had the demon removed!”Um, ok. So are you still shaking?“Yes but that’s just my body getting rid of the toxins.”OOOookay. And how long will that take?“I don’t know. (pause) Aren’t you happy for me??”Oh, yes. I’m delighted. I just don’t want someone taking advantage of you. What followed was the first of many difficult discussions. Dad was too young to be in a nursing home. Dad went from church to church looking for cures and paying for it with his meagre retirement income. Unfortunately he would still have hallucinations which he interpreted as demons out to get him. He also saw angels. Convincing him to get some real help was a challenge because he didn’t want to believe that he was actually ill.
At one point he got a couple of ladies to come to help by buying his groceries, making him hot meals and keeping house, he fell terribly ill because he wasn’t taking his tablets on time. He would wake up in the mornings and take his tablets and then, 20 minutes later when he was still shaking, he figured he’d forgotten to take his tablets and then both tablets would kick into his system and he would hallucinate. What he really needed was some help to keep him on the right track with the medications. I also had to gently fire the helpers when I found out that they were taking his money and buying their own food with his money. The food that he did have in the house was out of date. More than once, from across an ocean, I authorised treatment for him because he wasn’t compos mentis enough to authorise it for himself. Then, he would be mad at me for not letting him die. The doctors got him straightened out. He wasn’t unwell enough for a nursing home but then wasn’t well enough for an assisted living place… Mainly because he kept insisting that he was too young to have to endure it. He’d been cured. He didn’t deserve it. “Just let me die” he said on more than one occasion. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let him die if there was a way that he could be helped.
Dad was right about not deserving it. But no matter how many times he was told that God didn’t give you anything that you can’t handle, no matter that the Lord’s Prayer says “Thy Will be Done”, Dad just couldn’t accept it. As a consequence of Dad’s disease (which he lived with for more than half his life), how many people took advantage of him and how he died, my heart hardened against Christianity. In particular the church crowd he found himself in – pretending to cure him!
I needed something else to believe in. I was suffering in a way that I didn’t think possible when Dad died. I was profoundly wounded. I needed something that didn’t rely on the whims of a deity. I found Buddhism. From the first moment, when I realised that Buddhists either don’t believe in God or don’t address the question of a God, I felt I could relax. At that point I was suffering and I needed to know how to stop suffering – which is something that I might have been able to feel from Christianity. However, I was so unhappy with the people worshipping God that I couldn’t allow myself to take refuge in the religion. How dare they take advantage of a desperate and sick old man!
The nice thing about Buddhism is that I have also found the ability to forgive and forget these people. Only now I’m not thinking that God will exact revenge, I instead remind myself that everyone is on their own path and Karma, like Gravity, will catch up with them eventually. I’m here on this physical plane to learn life lessons – much the same way a child needs to learn to walk down stairs. No doubt I will take a tumble on my way to being a better person, but I have to keep getting up and trying again.