What makes a man? Without getting lost in gender theory, I want to suggest that what defines a man has nothing to do with what society values: money, status, popularity, chiseled abs. While all of those traits are appreciated and definitely helpful for climbing any corporate or social ladder, I do not believe that they make a man. Or a woman, for that matter.
I know what makes a man. I know because Sam has had all of those society-defined values ripped away forcefully. His career and income has vanished. Supposed friends and want-to-be-friends have disappeared. Lou has taken Sam’s body and made it unknown to both of us — a cage with a beating heart and a will to live.
And yet, he is still Sam. He still has that sly smile, sarcastic sense of humor, critical mind, and the ability to make you feel like the most important girl in the world. When he believes that you have earned it, he is the most loyal and generous man I know.
Maybe this should really be about what makes a person. Because ALS captures a person and makes her completely unknown to herself, her family, her friends, the world. Who are you when everything that you have attempted to define yourself by is stripped away? Your existence becomes quite cerebral, and that is a place that few dare to tread.
I used to tell Sam that I would take this disease for him if I could. Although I meant it at the time, when I ask myself today, four years later, my vow sounds a little shaky. Who would I be without the possibility of making my dreams come true? Who am I without a future? Who would I be without Sam’s wife and caregiver?
As Christians, we believe that there is more after this life. But I do not think that that takes away the pain and fear of losing out on what this life has to offer. It’s a hard life, but it can be such a good life, especially when we place value on the experiences and people in our lives that truly matter.
Amidst all of the striving for what we believe will make us happy, there are those beautiful, little moments when we just are. It may sound cliche, but we should capture those moments for all that they are worth.
A golden heart, a willingness to share what little or much we may have, and the ability to sit with the possibility that we are nothing without that career, spouse, degree, income, house, car, religion, child –whatever it may be that we believe defines us — these are characteristics that last when all else is gone. It’s uncomfortable. But by listening to those doubts, we confirm who we are or recognize the method acting that we call living for what it is.
It’s no different for me. I wonder if I would have confronted all of these thoughts and feelings if Sam hadn’t been diagnosed. I know I would be a different person. Life is like a flowchart: each decision, even small decisions to stay put when we should act, to be quiet when we want to speak, help to mold us into who we are now.
True, some decisions are made for us, and that can put us on a path that leads us to some difficult decisions. But much is in our control. God gave us a brain and a heart for a reason. We need to use both to help us grow into people that, when faced with challenges and despair, know who we are and know where our value comes from.
And that is something that we must take the time to decide for ourselves.