I never considered myself to be an avid reader. While talking through a list of books with a friend of mine, “how did you get through high school without reading that?” was the question she repeatedly posed. My answer was always the same, “I didn’t have a need; I was really good at math.” I never really enjoyed sitting down and reading a story until I was older, then quickly after that I couldn’t. By the time this past January rolled around, it had been over 5 years since I was able to read anything at length. With my MS, vision issues now prevent me from focusing on printed pages for anything but the shortest periods of time. Glasses don’t work. The issues with my eyes are ever-changing, even as I struggle through a single page. Academic lessons and work-related books became an evil necessity, quickly struggled through then set aside. There was nothing enjoyable about time spent reading a book. If something hurts, don’t do it. That made sense to me. I stopped reading, instead relying on televisions and computer screens for my information, education and entertainment. I grew to dread the occasional struggle with print. A good story was something I actually missed, but as I said “If something hurts, don’t do it.”
That all changed in January. A good friend, Shannon Polson, was celebrating the release of her book, North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey. It’s her memoir recalling the loss of her father and stepmom while retracing the unfinished journey through the Alaskan Arctic where they were attacked and killed by a bear (http://aborderlife.com/northofhope). Shannon and I served together as AH-64 attack helicopter platoon leaders in the Army back in the early 90s. She quickly earned my respect and admiration; I figured if there was ever a reason to learn how to do something again, this was it!
I pride myself on being “current” with many topics, especially technology, but the improvements with digital books have been phenomenal. Just a few years ago, the Kindle® reading apps couldn’t sooth my vision issues. Now, I can tweak the colors, contrast and font size enough that reading with the app on my iPad® is actually soothing! I’m sure that the ongoing changes with my MS may have accidentally led to improvements as well. Regardless of the reason, I’ll take it.
Since January, my motto has been to “turn off the TV, step away from the computer, and pick up an iPad” (hopefully, marketing royalties will soon come in from my nifty slogan). I made some caveats on what I would read with my new 2014 eyes: no military/business books (way too many read already) & none I've read before (or saw the movie version).
I started out with a few Science Fiction adventure tales, just to retrain my brain. Then, some classics: The Count of Monte Cristo and Great Expectations (no judgment for never reading them, I was really good at math). I finally sat down to enjoy North of Hope. It is a powerful, comforting story. I have two friends who, like me, lost their dad violently far too early (if there is ever a good time to die violently). Much of the fears, anger, confusion, and growth she shared mirror the journey I have been on for 26 years now. North of Hope was the catalyst for not only the healing and training of my vision but for a refreshed outlook on other personal loss.
Six months and 32 books later, I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully put into words what Shannon’s kick start did for me. My MS has taken so much from my life; so many activities and hobbies of my past are nothing but distant memories now. The ability to take something back is the most powerful tool I could ask for. If I can take this back, what’s next?
I’ll answer that question when I climb Angel’s Rest in August…
Kevin Byrne - Portland, OR