Part of the fascination of the future is the unpredictable nature of the journey, the horizon obscured by bends in the road. Around every corner are surprises, often happy sometimes not. For many, the response to this uncertainty lies in planning for every eventuality. We create an illusion of control by our detailed mapping of possibilities. Others greet the vagaries of life with a fatalistic nonchalance, finding equal reassurance in the calm unfolding of events over which we hold no dominion.
Parkinson’s changes your future in every way. To paraphrase Tom Isaacs, we are all somehow reconciled to living lives less wonderful than we had once imagined for ourselves. Our lives have past and present tenses but, like some tricky Latin verb, we struggle to see a cogent future. The horizon is even more hidden. Where there were bends in the road before, now there are hairpins. And its dark. And foggy. And the road is icy.
My point is this – you still make the journey but you will need the snow chains, fog lights and de-icer. We still make our own journey, rattling along slowly with our pills and potions.
Many of us believe we want to know the future. Many others would rather not. Some of us see our future in the hunched, broken figures at the Neurology outpatients. Some of us see it in the Marathon runners vigorously pushing back against the disease’s course. For some of us, our days are marked by small victories, tiny triumphs in this endless war.
I can no more predict the future than anyone. But let’s be clear: We can choose to be diminished or defined by this condition. We can let it lead or make it follow.
In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge asks of the phantom “You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us. Is that so, Spirit?”
The spirit says nothing but takes Scrooge off to see the future.
Suddenly I am Scrooge and we are flying over a snowy Yorkshire, the sun glinting off frozen ponds. Steam rises from roofs and smoke from chimneys. There’s my parents’ house in Doncaster. I can hear laughter. My sister and I are playing in the snow outside while my brother giggles in his pram. I can see my mother waving to my childhood self from the kitchen window. My father is dragging a Christmas tree to the front door.
We fly on south, weaving between clouds as we follow the A1. As afternoon becomes evening, the road becomes a river of light. We follow the M25 round to the east soariing over the Dartford bridge and past the navigation lights of the refineries. I swear I can hear the strains of ‘Walking in the air’. The winter constellations Orion and Gemini seem brighter than ever. On we go over the rooftops of Kent, the Medway far below. There is my house. In the garden is the last of the snow crocodile Catherine and her friend made last week. Alice is playing with the dog while Alex and his friend Tom are on the Wii. Claire and I are staggering back from dinner with Anton and Freia, reeling under the influence of Freia’s sloe gin.
Again we swoop through the clouds and suddenly it is day. The landscape is familiar but somehow different. It is our house but with a big conservatory. I recognise Claire in the kitchen with Freia. A young man cheers loudly – I realise it is Alex, watching the cricket on the television. He must be in his twenties. I see Catherine playing the flute. Alice is wearing jodhpurs. Claire picks up a crying baby. Whose? The newspaper, unnoticed on the doormat, says 25th December 2020.
The house is full of guests, girlfriends and boyfriends. But I am nowhere. The spirit and I walk unseen among them, catching snatches of conversation. Freia offers Catherine a glass of something deep purple “Your dad used to love my blackberry whisky” I hear her say. “Dad wrote this poem when I was 17” says Catherine. Alex calls Tom to watch another Aussie wicket fall “That’s how Dad used to get out – always playing across the line”. They laugh. The radio is playing O Mio Babbino Caro. “Dad would have liked this” says Alice “cricket and Puccini!”. Freia and Claire are handing round glasses of champagne. Anton is making a speech, struggling to make himself heard over the din. His voice fades in and out like a poorly tuned radio “Friends and family …….an empty place ….. sorely missed at Christmas ….. unexpected turn of events…..coping today without Jon”
I turn to the phantom. I want to speak but he gestures me to be quiet.
The phone rings. “Yes…. No…..Ok….fine” I hear Catherine say
“Who is it?” asks Claire
“It’s Dad” says Catherine “He got the earlier flight home from the meeting. He’ll be here in half an hour”