ALS, ASL, Hope and Testimony

Years ago, when I lived in Detroit, serving as a missionary for my Church, I met a family who were some of the best examples of being positive in the midst of adversity. Their examples have been, in the years since, some that I have worked hard to emulate. I’ve often failed in that attempt, but… I’d be surprised if they didn’t fail in that attempt sometimes, too.

The father of the family, I’ll call him Bill (it wasn’t bill, but neither can I remember his name, nor would I share it if I could… because  this story is about my experience with them, rather than their experiences directly.) – Bill was a very successful martial arts instructor in Detroit. Very few martial artists get to do more than make an hobby out of their sport. Fewer still actually get paid for that sport. And even fewer still earn enough in that pay to be able all of their bills, and still fewer earn a good living. He was one of the rare few who could. He’d made a lifetime career out of training others in the martial arts, and in some particular forms that were uniquely his; he had customers seek him out from throughout the world to learn from him. He had comfortably provided for his family for many years, doing what he loved; training and performing and competing in the martial arts.

This was all before I met him.

And then he got Lou Gehrig’s. His was a particularly aggressive form of ALS. If my memory is being honest, the way that Bill described it to me was something along the lines of “I’m lucky because, as bad as it is, Lou Gehrig’s Disease only last’s for a couple of years! I can expect to be fully free of the disease in 3 to 5 years!” I was entirely ignorant of the disorder, and for someone who had been such a physically powerful man, the wheelchair laden man who’s arms were bound tightly to his chest by muscle spasms belied his history. “That’s wonderful!” I said…. only to get the sly look of an obviously intelligent man with mischief in his eyes….. he knew that I was ignorant of his disorder… “The only down side,” he continued, “Is that it’s fatal in every case so far….” Most healthy, 20 year old boys don’t know how to respond to that. I was no exception. I stuttered the obligatory “I’m so sorry!” as his wife playfully chided him for teasing the missionaries.

For those who, like I was, are ignorant of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s formally known as ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). It is an aggressive disease, which for most people (Bill being one of them) has no known cause, and no known cure. It is fatal in every known instance. Most people die within 3-5 years of diagnosis, but some live as long as 10 years (or more). It attacks the brain, the nerves, people’s speech (making it very difficult to understand them) and the muscles, causing everything to become progressively weaker until the lungs and heart no longer have the strength to do their job, and the person finally succumbs and dies.

The years since I met Bill have been met with a substantial increase in public awareness of this disease, and a substantial increase in research and understanding of it. Doctors and scientists say of ALS that little is known… and that’s after all of the major advancements we’ve made. When I met Bill, next to nothing was known.

And so here I was, meeting a physically diminished man, who had several days of scruff on his face, because he could no longer shave, and it was hard for his wife to shave him every day, on top of her other responsibilities like bathing, feeding, and helping with bodily functions… She had left her professional career to take care of him full time, and they’d just left their home, which was a beautifully restored house from Detroit’s Golden Motown Era (seriously, do some googling…. the architecture from that time frame is amazing…. simply stunning!) in order to move into a small place  with no stairs where he could maneuver in his motorized wheelchair. The previous 3 or so years had been nothing but broken lives and turmoil, all with the known and foreseeable undesirable end.

And yet, here Bill and his beautiful wife were not only content, but happily joking and teasing those around them. They weren’t just accepting of their circumstances, but thriving in them.

In our Church, once a month we forgo sermons or prepared talks to allow the congregation to share with each other our testimonies of faith and be strengthened by others’.

Just before I completed my mission, and came home to Idaho, we had one of these meetings. Bill rolled his wheelchair to the front of the chapel, and (painfully) stood from it. As he reached the podium, he put his mouth near the microphone (he was getting hard to hear, as his voice’s strength was going too.) He began by telling everyone that he wanted to take every chance he could to proclaim his faith, because he was starting to get too weak to continue to come to church, and he knew that he wasn’t going to live much longer.

Setting this premise for the congregation, who had all grown to love and cherish this amazing man, he continued.

“I know that it’s hard to understand my speech, so I’d like to share my testimony to you in Sign Language.”

He clumsily stepped back from the podium and raised his painfully wrenched arms and hands to shoulder level, the task clearly wore him out, and he had to lean back to do it. Everyone in the congregation felt embarrassed for Bill because we could see what he obviously couldn’t: there was no way he was going to do any signing.

Stepping back to the podium, arms still raised, he awkwardly looked from one hand, and then to the other, as if realizing for the first time that they weren’t working the way that they should.

“Dang it.”

And the congregation, uncharacteristically for our Church, burst out laughing through our tears on his behalf.

Of course Bill knew that he couldn’t sign. And that was the point. He knew that he’d just darkened the mood of the room, and he solved it at his own expense.

He then went on to bare a beautiful testimony of faith, redemption, and of hope.

The reason that Bill and his wife could have such positive attitudes surrounding his rapid decline in health and his impending death, was that they had been married together, not just until death parted them, but for time and all eternity. They had faith that the promise of the Savior for resurrection, perfection, and wholeness would all be fulfilled. They believed the Savior’s promise that they would get to be together with Him. This life, after all, is just a trial period. And that trial might be ending for him, but there was more to come.

I left within the next couple of weeks. I don’t think that I ever saw Bill again. I don’t imagine that he lived much longer… though I’d be happy to be wrong.

But their example has lived on in me.

And so has his faith.

Hopefully it can make your day a little better today, too.

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Defending the Disabled: Victimhood and Self Defense

300%

For every able bodied person who is victimized by violent crime, 3 disabled people are (adjusted for population equality).

It’s important for us to know what can be done to protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless. Police are not protective forces. I used to be a police officer. I took the motto of “to protect and serve” seriously, as did my blue brothers. But we learned early on that we couldn’t stop violence. Our presence reduced the likelihood of violence. We patrolled areas that were more likely to have violent crime with greater frequency than the area less likely to have it. We actively worked to take criminals off the streets. Each of these things fell into one of two categories of law enforcement: either preventive or reactive protection. 

What we didn’t do, at least not often, was active protection.

Whaaaaaaaat? But the motto is to “protect and serve! You must have been a bad cop!” (I’ve actually been told that when I’ve made this argument…)

The truth is that police can prevent crime by having increased presence and proactive policing policies. And police can punish criminals by having reactive enforcement, but in order to have active protection they need to actually be at the location of the crime while the crime is taking place: so either the cops are everywhere at once (a literal police state), the cops are participating in the crime (God forbid), or they happen to be in the right place at the right time (great when it happens, but not common).

You see, the police can’t stop all violent crime; they aren’t charged with that action; and their failure to stop crime is not something they are legally accountable for.

This is the long way of saying: the police can’t and usually won’t protect you from crime. Arguments against self defense using the police as the basis of the argument are fundamentally flawed and should be sumerily dismissed as such. If someone tries to say that the police will stop violence, I give you my permission to laugh in that someone’s face (though doing so may not be the kind thing to do…)

If we can’t rely on the police to protect us, can we rely on others? I’d challenge the answer is ‘no.’ So we establish that the defense of ourselves belongs to ourselves: thus we reasonably conclude that self defense is the only reasonable form of consistently reliable defense.

Having concluded the reasonableness of self defense, let’s approach the morality of it.

If I wander into a bear’s den, and am subsequently mauled to death, who is blamed? Me or the bear? Sad as they may be, even my family would say “he shouldn’t have gone into that bear’s den!” No reasonable person would conclude that the bear ‘murdered me,’ and most would not even apply any guilt the the bear: as the intruder, the guilt and fault lie with me.

With a simple example, we can see that self defense is not only natural, but also moral: he who defends himself is free of guilt. But as higher thinking creatures, we also have higher levels of responsibility. While a startled bear may reasonably attack the cause of alarm, we, with greater cognitive ability must apply that ability to the greatest possible extent: did the person who startled me in the grocery store the other day pose a real threat? Certainly not. But there are times when we must make decisions with reduced input and with short time: is the intruder in my house a dangerous threat to myself or my family? I probably don’t have time to gather more information, and am thus morally justified to behave naturally: to take defensive action.

We’ve shown that self defense is both reasonable and moral. Let’s discuss the implication of that reason and morality; this is the discussion that the American founding fathers preserved in the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The right to have a gun is not a natural right, but rather, the right to self preservation and self defense is.

It is important to understand the natural right that is being preserved in order to understand why the founders worded the Amendment the way they did. The right to defend myself being natural, moral, and holy (established by God), I must have the tools to exercise that right.

I used to hold the opinion that if guns had never been invented, the world would be a better place. After all, guns are simply a more efficient method of killing, right? Certainly that’s true.

But there is also an old saying that “God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal.”

Why did the founders specify the right to bear arms? And what did they mean? Did they mean only muskets? Did they mean that it was a governmental or collective right? First, let’s address the latter. The bill of rights has many enumerated rights; each right is individual, and each limitation is on the collective. For this reason alone, we must conclude that the right to bear arms was intended to be individual, rather than collective. The mentioned militia was understood at the time to be nothing more than a collection of well armed individual citizens, and not an entity regulated by the government. 

As for the idea that muskets where the intended arms of the 2nd Amedment? Prior to the writing of the Bill of Rights, there existed fully automatic small arms, and (more importantly to the argument) congress knew about these weapons. In fact, congress attempted to purchase them for the revolutionary militia, but couldn’t raise the necessary funds. Only a few years later, one of these weapons traveled West with Lewis and Clark’s famed expedition. These facts alone should cause anyone attempting to make the left’s favorite “musket argument” be dragged into the street to be vindictively mocked and openly ridiculed. That argument ignores not only the intent of the Founders (to preserve the natural right to self defense) but also all of the facts. But it is also important to note that the founders expressly sited the 2nd Amendment as reason for private individuals to own cannons and other artillery; the founders intended that the phrase “shall not be infringed” be interpreted literally.

Bringing the discussion full circle: the only way for the weak, defenseless, and innocent to truly exercise the right to self defense is to be at least (and preferably better) armed as the one from whom they need to defend themselves. 

As a visibly disabled person, I’m %300 more likely than my able bodied peers to be violently attacked. And despite my not unsubstantial training, I am distinctively unable to use physical force to protect myself. That ability increases exponentially as a persons physical stature diminishes. It inteases exponentially as disability increases. And it increases dramatically with a change in gender. In other words, despite being of average height, having aches the roughly the size of a barrel, being trained in hand to hand combat, I’d be unable to defend myself against an even mildly invested attacker. And that’s why the disabled are so much more likely to be attacked. A small, wheelchair bound woman with muscular distrophy, for example, would be entirely defenseless. 

And so enters the importance of Sam Colt: even with basic training, because of a firearm, my ability to defend myself automatically at least matches the ability of my attacker to attack. In my case, despite a substantial tremor in my shooting hand, I’m still a better-than-average shot (the second best in my graduating class from the Academy with a handgun, the best with a tactical shotgun, and at least among the top with a rifle, if not the top, though we never officially competed there… tooting my own horn here…)  Sam Colt made me equal despite my physical inequality.

My previous belief that the world would be better off had guns never been invented couldn’t be farther from the truth: the biggest and strongest are no longer the only ones capable of violent force. 

And that’s ultimately the most reasonable and moral argument for firearms: without them, the weak and defenseless are stripped of our natural and God Given right to self defense. The more efficient the arms, the better our chances of surviving attack. 

To those of you who are frightened of firearms: please contact me. As a certified firearm instructor, I will either teach you myself or put you in contact with one, like me, who will teach you. One of the best ways to decrease fear of a thing (and in the casemof guns, to substantially decrease the likelihood of accidents) is to increase education.

To those of you who are disabled and looking for an equilizer against the world’s wolves: please consider becoming educated in the safe and effective use of these miraculous inventions, and then getting one. The invitation in the above paragraph stands to you as well, but despite my experience and skill, I’m not certified to teach handguns; however, I’d happily put you in contact with those who are.