Richard M. Cohen
Photo: Ryan Dorsett

My sense of self shifts with the tremors. In the lens onto the world through which any seriously sick person peers—in my own case, battles with MS and colon cancer—fog blurs the lines marking the road and showing the way. Detours define the journey. Perception becomes reality and creates distortions. Chronic conditions take over systems and sensibilities deep within a body and mind.

As we struggle to survive and stay on our feet, how can we love? I often feel alone, even as I am surrounded by a loving family. I retreat within myself. To feel so bad and give something as good as unconditional love tests what is important. Self-absorption is out there, quicksand that can pull us down and away from the people we hold dear.

I never will love myself. The idea of self-love seems mythical, and what I see in the mirror disturbs me. But I can love my life. Maybe that is where I must begin. To find the joy inside my life is not drilling for water in the desert. My wife and children offer a happiness that would otherwise seem elusive. That cannot be taken away by disease.

Neither physical nor emotional pain will fertilize love. Family does. Given a pulpit, I would preach to citizens of sickness that life is made precious by what we give to others, that love is the currency of the realm and the current that warms. If it is real, that electricity will power any house.

We must decide what we need love to be. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire offer no insight for me. The chronically healthy can live that 1930s Hollywood version of perfect love. The physically flawed cannot. The whole person must be more than the sum of flawed parts.

That man or woman who guides the other to clear the eyes and know what matters becomes an extraordinary character. My wife and I have traveled well beyond cosmetic love. We live in the real world and ask only what reasonably can be delivered. Love is picking up the other when the times come. And come they do.

There is no soundtrack to our relationship. Caring, and being there, are silent operations. Love is a form of hard work the young can not foresee. Equal measures of discipline and devotion are key ingredients for the rich stew simmering on the stove in the house where I live.


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