In the past few months, I have explored spirituality in a way that admittedly pulled its spiritual punches. I have talked about the human spirit, the spirit of courage, the spirituality that exists in a beautiful day. I have explored the spirituality of ALS, and I have explored the lack of spirituality in a culture that seems to believe in its own immortality. I guess part of the reason for my more descriptive narrative is that I have lived among so many different religious traditions in my life, and to proclaim THE way seems mostly counterproductive. After all, who am I to argue the relative virtues of the eight-fold path versus the way of Islam versus wrestling with God versus walking the extra mile versus the double-blind placebo controlled study of High Science? I have witnessed the subtleties and exaggerations, vices and virtues of all these approaches, and I can honestly say that if I don’t get too hung up on the nuances of language, it is possible to see holy spirit working in each of them—no matter what the frame of reference. What I have been circling around is the fact that dis ease is a holy endeavor, and if you cannot perceive the spirit that walks in a chemo drip or a slow loss of muscular function, then you are missing the great companionship that walks along beside you.
Next week in Minneapolis is the Walk to Defeat ALS, and I am sorry to say that with all of the things going on in our lives, I haven’t put a team together to support it. I have always liked to do things like the Walk—just a little over a year ago I rode the MS 150. I love the symbolism of walking to support the cause, since so many of us PALS cannot get around without some assistance. I love the fact that it will raise money for both research and support. What I really love about events like this though is the spirit that walks along with the participants. I remember last year on the MS 150, there was a point where Jon and Kirsten and Katie and I were just grooving in an 18-19 mph train that, each time it started to falter, another of us would move to the front and take the lead. Truly, the road rose to meet us, and the wind was at our backs. If this isn’t holy, then I don’t know what is. In the backs of our minds were the people that we were riding for—people with MS that we knew. So I feel a little guilty not putting together a group for the Walk. And of course the MS Society is a big group with a lot of resources and public face. The Walk does not get a lot of publicity, no local television stations have picked it up, there isn’t a celebrity that will be at the starting line, well unless you count the exceptional Kathy Hult.
You are probably wondering who Kathy is, and I have to admit that I didn’t have a clue about her until I started researching the Walk to Defeat ALS. You see, Kathy Hult is a PALS, and she was instrumental in the founding of the Minneapolis Walk. In the last eleven years, her efforts have raised over four million dollars for the ALS Association. When she started, she walked with a cane and though her dis ease progression is slower than most, she is now in a power wheelchair with a dog helper. Not only has she worked for ALS, she has also worked for the group that helped her to get a dog companion–Helping Paws. She was just honored locally as one of “Eleven Who Care,” and no one deserves the honor more. Here is a woman that, no matter what you believe, shows a spirit that is truly caring.
It is so tempting to write the “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” line at this point. Kathy Hult is doing what I think all of us hope that we would do in the face of overwhelming difficulty, and she certainly personifies the lemonade of humanity. I love people like her. Inspirational, strong, down to earth, Kathy Hult has worked with a spirit that many would call holy. She has made the best of a bad situation, and I really admire her for it.
At the same time, I cannot help but think about the things that no television special will ever relate. For Kathy to get ready to go out, for her to get dressed and ready for the day, takes enormous effort. I know this from personal experience. Just the act of trying to get legs through pants and socks on feet, just brushing your teeth and washing your hair, requires enormous energy and time to rest from the effort. And this is the thing that I think is important for us to remember. It is easy to put people on a pedestal when they show us the kind of courage that Kathy Hult shows. But make no mistake about it, the courage is not in organizing the Walk, it is in getting out among people even though you know what it is going to take, just to look a little less like dis ease is your constant companion. It is the willpower that she shows by getting up and engaging in activities that will help other people. This is no lemons to lemonade story. It is praise for hard work, perseverance and gumption. It is praise for a spirit that you are either open to, or you shut out. In the ALS world, a walk with the holy spirit is about all you get, and you can choose to walk with her, or you can stay inside. Kathy has chosen to step out with the spirit at her side, and courage in her gut.
Ben Harper, one of my favorite preachers, sings, “When my legs no longer carry, and the warm wind chills my bones, I will reach for Mother Mary, and I shall not walk alone.” And here is the point. There is no place in time when we are ever really alone. It may feel like it. It may feel like we are walking in utter isolation. But if you just listen to melodies on the breeze, get in a bike train, gaze into the eyes of your own true love or wrestle with God, you are with a spirit that knows no boundaries except those that you impose. There is spirit in the cancer, and spirit in the cure. There is a holiness that, if we are just a little open, we can smell, taste and see. This is the point that I should have been making. It is in people like Kathy Hult, and it is in you, no matter the chill of the autumn wind. None of us need walk alone.