Monday, February 17, 2014
Siince learning "the truth" on Saturday, this issue has been at the forefront of my thoughts. My first inclination about sharing it here slinked into the shadows when I considered the possible ramifications and feedback. In the spirit of "all of us are smarter than one of us", I've decided to share the story anyway and welcome your feedback.
I attended CQ (Continuing Qualification Training) at IAHIT this past weekend. CQ is the once-a-year opportunity to reconnect with friends and acquaintances that we don't see or interact with that often; some are friends of many years. Two such friends sat directly behind me for much of the 2-day training. Time apart can serve as a "magnifying glass" of sorts that seems to amplify the effects of age-related change. We look different. We act different. We are different than what others remember about us from years ago.
For the lion's share of my career, I flew as a language speaker. By virtue of the seniority-enhancing aspects of the speaker program at sCO, we tend to spend much time with those relatively near us in seniority, as I did for years. The two colleagues who sat behind me and I flew together regularly in the past "era" of our careers. Though we haven't been together in some time, their faces and smiles were familiar, at least at first.
The man, who in my experience had always been tentative, soft-spoken, maybe even a little shy, seemed moreso. The woman was as ready and boisterous as ever! As the first day evolved, I mistook his reticence to be involved, his failure to participate as indifference; we can get so jaded over time (especially with something like CQ)! Then, I realized that there was something more significant at work, something seemingly "organic". Of course, the instructors zeroed in on him right away and it became apparent that they were discussing his actions (and inactions). My old friend moved lethargically, not slowly; he responded as though befuddled, not indifferent; his appearance was of someone "altered", not uninvolved. When the opportunity presented itself, I asked our mutual friend, "Is he okay?".
The truth of the answer shook me. He has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder for which there is no cure. The symptoms that I and others observed were those of the disorder, not the result of any drug or foreign substance ingestion, as many suspect. She explained that he'd been suffering "in silence" for some time but that the symptoms were becoming more and more pronounced: his soft voice has grown softer, more tentative, his gaze more intense, his gait more distinct, his emotions more raw, his cognitive processes more subdued. This man and I are contemporaries, practically the same age and seniority. I've known him for the better part of 3 decades and he's become almost unrecognizable except in his physical form.
While able to satisfactorily complete the requirements of CQ and the day-to-day mechanics of our job, the DIFFERENCE in his demeanor, in HIM is so pronounced. Of course, I see him as a young man in his late 50s, early 60s. No doubt others don't seem him the same way.
Time is not on my friend's side. I don't know the extent to which the CQ instructors had to "work with" him so that he could successfully complete our annual requirements. I have the impression that they take their responsibilities seriously and handled his situation in a "no nonsense" way. It's a huge responsibility for them, one that I don't envy. At the risk of appearing uncompassionate, they have a responsibility to the company, to us, to our passengers and to themselves to draw the arbitrary line. I can't imagine...
For myself, I'm pondering what part of this situation bothers me the most: "what will happen to my friend?", "who will be the one to say, 'ok, that's enough'?", "whew, I'm glad that I don't have to 'make the call'",
or, is the sad truth of the situation that I keep asking...
"is that going to happen to me?"