“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Perhaps it’s simply because I’m jealous. Pull back for a second, and just look at Fox’s accomplishments. Take a good look at his life and attitude. Married to the stunning, supportive actress Tracy Pollan, with four beautiful, charming kids, here’s a man who’s tasted fame, fortune, and success on levels I can’t even begin to imagine. He’s turned his degrading neurological disease into a positive development, transitioning from actor and assuming the public role as advocate of Parkinson’s treatments, stem cell research among those sponsored by his foundation. He’s befriended innumerable beckons of hope: Christopher Reeves, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, Bishop Carlton D. Pearson, and many more, too many to name here in fact. He’s even eaten dinner at the White House and played guitar with The Who for crying out loud. How could I not be jealous?
But jealousy doesn’t necessarily mean I want to covet everything that belongs to him, nor does it mean that I want to eat at the White House or suffer from Parkinson’s. The point being, I’m jealous of his full life, and his positive outlook that continually surprises me. How can one man make such a different in the lives of so many, especially when workaholics like myself can hardly effect change on such a grand scale, instead hording our savings, instead looking for new ways to simply pay back our student loans? Perhaps Fox has simply been lucky—as the title of his first memoir would suggest—but then again, perhaps it’s not luck that defines a person of any grade. (Would you think yourself lucky if you were neck deep in Parkinson’s aches and constantly jittery from medications?)
In essence, maybe my jealousy stems from Fox’s spirit of betterment, not his accomplishments, and maybe that’s what compels me to volunteer my time with developmentally disabled youth and donate to the scientific research that I really believe can influence the health of everyone and their families. Maybe there’s a fine line between jealousy and motivation (if there is a line between the two at all), but either way, he has my thanks for the inspiration to action he’s undoubtedly encouraged in me.
* * *
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
Can you really imagine a world without Michael J. Fox? Because I can’t, and by that I mean, I can’t seem to subtract Fox from the formula that has resulted in the present world. Of course I know that his death will be mourned by millions around the world, and it’ll greatly affect people like myself who are greatly invested in stem cell research and cures to a myriad of diseases, but Fox seems to be more than that—he seems almost to epitomize humility. As he writes in Always Looking Up:
Sometimes when channel surfing, I am ambushed by the image of a younger, healthier me. Usually, I just carry on clicking, giving it no more thought than I would an infomercial. There are times though, I confess, when I will pause and set the remote on the coffee table for a minute or two—sometime longer.
Admittedly, flipping through the channels, I stop on anything involving Michael J. Fox, whether an interview or a corny movie from the ’80s; and I wonder if after his death, I’ll stop on one of his movies and no longer delight in his performance, but instead admire his perseverance. How large his obstacles must seem—even his morning ritual is magnified by extreme discomfort and pain—and how casually he proceeds to endure them, whether under the spotlight or offstage. How impressive! How memorable!
* * *
“Happiness grows in a direct proportion to your acceptance and an inverse proportion to your expectations.”
—Michael J. Fox
I’ve always been an overly ambitious person: master’s programs, working 60-hour weeks, submitting articles and freelancing in whatever spare time is left, and for what? For a few extra bucks and maybe a few comments from friends or readers? For a few love interests to swoon if and when I describe my accomplishments? Whereas Fox’s mentality is completely opposite mine, and he actually seems the better for it: a successful actor before even graduating high school, now enjoying a loving family, a famous nonprofit foundation that helps millions of people and advances scientific research, not because he needed to prove himself, but because (simply put) he accepted his own desires and dreams.
Truth be told, happiness is always a work in progress, just as life too is always ongoing, filled with complications and unexpected landmines. Having watched and read about Fox’s progression as he tamed his personal unrest only to have it manifest in his body after achieving such internal peace, perhaps I better understand the profound need to negotiate lifestyles and exorcize demons of all varieties. Our waking hours are finite after all, but the deeds we perform and the intentions of our actions can send ripples throughout history, however dramatically, however faintly. As Fox says:
Sleep, like waking, is not something I can sneak up on. It’s a negotiation, seeking consensus among all the bickering faction—mind, body, psyche—before I can simply lie down, close my eyes, and drift off to sleep.
Whatever the reasons for this deep connection I’ve singlehandedly manufactured, only one thing’s for certain: there’s an apprehension inside of me that knows the day will come when I hear of Fox’s death. Even as I finish the article, no closer to figuring out why exactly I’ve endowed him in particular with so much emotional weigh and placed so much importance on his activism and career, I still can’t imagine the afternoon after his death.
Though I’m certain Fox has made a significant impact on the world and his memory will continue to drive personal betterment and medical developments, a world without him and his optimistic smile now more than ever seems like an unfamiliar place. “That such a mensch, a good and decent man, a father, a husband, could be touched by this random life-changing calamity,” Fox writes about Christopher Reeve, “seemed to validate the dread we feel when a spouse is late driving home on a rainy night, or a kind takes to long to scramble up for a spill on the playground.” And that one statement encompasses how I feel now, as though Fox life is threatened (which it is), and there’s nothing I can do but wait for the good or bad news that awaits everyone in the future, the only comfort being that he lived (and continues to live each day) with a stern optimism that can hardly be defeated by death.