Stuart remains alive because of a gift not available in any mall
Nov. 25, 2006
This being the biggest shopping weekend of the year, I figured it was a good time to go in search of a gift. So naturally, I went to see Stuart Bridges.
He's been stripped of most everything a man can have, yet I knew that I would find just what I was looking for there in the 10-by-12 room where he lives.
A generous display of optimism and heart and a window, maybe, into a better way of going about this business of living. advertisement
If Stuart knows anything, it is how to live. I guess it's because he's dying.
Not so long ago, Stuart was a tax auditor with a passion for tennis, the picture of health until one day in 1998, when he suddenly had trouble swallowing. From then on, his life became a series of incremental losses that made no sense until 2001, when the death sentence was delivered.
Stuart, 48, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Lou Gehrig's disease. About 30,000 people in the United States have it, 300 of them in Arizona. Most of them will live three years. All will die.
Inch by excruciating inch, ALS has stolen pieces of Stuart's life, leaving him unable to stand, unable to eat, unable to move anything except three fingers on his right hand.
Stuart didn't expect to see Thanksgiving this year. Last January, I wrote about his dream of raising money one last time for the Walk to D'Feet ALS in Tempe, a fund-raiser to help others who, like him, are prisoners in their own bodies. Readers sent in thousands of dollars, making Stuart the top fund-raiser for the 2006 event, and they sent letters filled with inspiration and encouragement. It's the letters, he says, that kept him alive this year.
I'll let him explain.
"If you have a special moment in your life and you relive it in your mind enough times, it makes all the crap in life go away. You think more about what you have instead of what you don't have. With ALS, your body kind of melts away. You lose function, can't walk, can't talk, can't eat. I think about last January. It makes a lot of it go away. Sometimes, when I have a tough time breathing, I just remember what people wrote in and I really want to emphasize, Laurie, that when people think they don't have an impact, they do. I think care and compassion are felt."
Felt enough in this instance that Stuart actually seems a little better now than when I saw him in January. In May, he left his room for the first time in a year. Now every morning, he sits in a wheelchair for a few hours, finding pleasure in the company of friends, in the warmth of memories, in the play of his cat Sam. In the welcome feel once again of sunshine on his face.
"I try and intertwine my life with friends," he said. "I try to instill in them to have joy in their lives. I still have joy. Just because you have a terminal diagnosis doesn't mean you can't have joy in your life. The day I die I will have had a good time that day. Who could ask for more?"
Long after he expected to be gone, Stuart is now working on raising funds for the 2007 ALS walk in Tempe. (Information at walk .alsaz.org.) A meaningful life, he says, is all about compassion. Show some every day, then watch how it changes things. How it changes you.
Stuart believes he's alive because of such a gift, one that won't be found in any shopping mall this weekend.
Reach Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (602) 444-8635. Read her blog at robertsblog.azcentral.com.http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepu...berts1125.html