The thing about storms is their uncanny ability to either bring people together or drive them apart. In my own experience, gusting winds, pounding thunder and crashing lightning only make me want to be a little bit closer to the people I love.
As a little girl, I begged my dad to come inside and away from the storms he loved to watch because I was scared for his safety. But I also did so because I was scared myself: I wanted him to pick me up and give me a great big hug and tell me that everything would be ok. Sometimes, you just need the assurance and comfort of someone bigger, stronger.
In truth, my family’s circumstances and experience with Parkinson’s Disease are not particularly unique. People endure “storms” every single day all over the world. When you sit down and face reality, hard times are hitting people everywhere. I know people who’ve lost loved ones too early; have endured the pain of a bitter divorce; lost everything the owned to a flood; lost their job; lost a baby...the list goes on.
In college, I had the opportunity to get to know and become friends with a young man who was a survivor of the civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan. Over cups of coffee and a period of hours spent in our campus library, he recounted to me his story of survival: separated from his family at 5 years old, he fled to refugee camps in Uganda and Kenya. Along the way, he saw some of his friends killed by rebel warriors or eaten by wild animals. I remember the tears that came to my eyes as I looked at this extraordinary person who had lived this amazing life. I am so selfish to think I’ve ever endured something truly hard, I thought.
It breaks my heart when the trials of life—the storms—drive people apart. In our times of deepest sorrow one would think we should cling to those we love the most for support. But, sadly, this is not always the case.
The fact of the matter is this: We have a choice.
We can chose to open up and be vulnerable to those around us—allowing them to see our hurt and pain and in turn heal it with their compassion. Or, we can close ourselves off to the world and never experience the healing power of love.
The funny thing about my father’s disease is that is has truly brought our family closer than we ever were before. This past year, every holiday, every visit home has been filled with some of the most cherish moments of my adulthood. By drawing together, we’ve somehow tapped into a harmony we never experienced before. In our case, our storm (Parkinson’s) isn’t exactly the kind of storm that goes away. But, I know that we can take it on together, as a family.
As for my friend from Sudan: After three years of living in the United States and through the resources of the internet, he was able to find his mother—the woman he had not seen since he was five—living in Kenya. He traveled there in the summer of 2006. I like to picture my friend on the day of that reunion: I like to imagine that the sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as he traveled along a dirt road surrounding by stretching plains and spotted by wild animals. I also like to imagine the smile on his face. After such an intense storm, he was finally going home. Later, he told me about the experience and about the joy the laughter the tears they shared when they saw each other for the first time.
That’s the beauty of storms: no matter how terrible, no matter how hard, no matter how impossible they may seem—if you will let them, if you will learn from them—they will bring you to the place where you’ve always belonged: Home.