By Contributor on March 03, 2014

By Leslie Fratkin

This week is National MS Awareness Week, and as someone with multiple sclerosis, I urge you to join me in recognizing it.

For 25 years, I worked as a photojournalist. I climbed mountains, walked foreign streets for hours, even visited war zones, secure in the knowledge my body would be up to the task.

Then in 2006, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Now I can’t even commit to a lunch date without worrying I might not feel well enough to attend.

Though I’m luckier than many, my globe-trotting lifestyle is a thing of the past. I can’t shoulder the weight of a camera bag. My eyes tire easily, sometimes refusing to focus, or seeing two when I know there’s only one.

I wake up each morning with pain that starts out being simply annoying but by evening I can barely stand or hold up my own head.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that afflicts more than 2.3 million people worldwide. An attack against the central nervous system damages the myelin (the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers). This damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing a variety of symptoms.

The most common include vertigo, visual disturbances, chronic fatigue, muscle weakness and pain, difficulty in walking, and cognitive dysfunction.

Multiple sclerosis is a wily, bewildering affliction. We don’t know its cause, and we don’t have a cure. But finding that cause is an important step in stopping the disease.

To that end, research steadily marches on. Several factors suggest that an infectious agent may be involved in triggering multiple sclerosis, and just this month a team of researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City identified a toxin that they suggest may be just that trigger: Epsilon toxin, which is produced by a specific strain of bacteria (Clostridium Perfringens).

Whatever the cause may be, one thing afflicts each one of us with multiple sclerosis: As connections inside us break down, so do the connections between ourselves and the world outside.

As my disease progressed, I found myself missing the frequent openings, art events and gatherings that used to connect me to my world. But I adapted.

When I couldn’t ride my bicycle or walk more than a couple of blocks, I bought a 50cc scooter that I call my mobility device. Driving my scooter gives me a semblance of independence. I feel like I’m taking my disability into my own hands, taking back at least a little bit of the control I feel slipping through my fingers.

Perhaps you know someone with multiple sclerosis, or you’ve heard about a friend of a friend, or a distant cousin, with the disease.

During National MS Awareness Week, please be aware of the person whose wheelchair you just made room for out on the sidewalk, or the one whose walker got in your way as you tried to race out of the subway.

Try making a connection. It just might make your day — and our week.

Leslie Fratkin lives in New York City and can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

Copyright Leslie Fratkin

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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