Truly Blessed

ALS patient James Martin shares his journey.

My Sci-Fi Reality

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James Martin
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Science fiction is a genre that readily lends itself to movies and television, from the B-movies of the fifties to television episodics (1960's to present) to the summer blockbusters of today. Many of the futuristic parts of science fiction of the past have turned into present reality, too many to even list. But the fun of science fiction is thinking about the future possibles that morph into probables.

Good science fiction is simply good drama set within a technological or fantasy setting. It follows standard techniques of character development, tension, subplots, plot arcs, resolution etc. Sometimes it is farfetched, sometimes it is an extrapolation of the present, and sometimes it hits close to home.

I was watching an episode of a not too futuristic sci-fi series that involved time travel, a wormhole facilitating rapid space travel over great distances, and solar flares interfering with both. At this point I am sure that many of you reading this are rolling your eyes, but stick with me for a little more sci-fi contrivance. The interfering solar flares result in a duplicate spaceship with an identical "alternate" crew appearing and subsequently being propelled two thousand years into the past and into a far-flung galaxy. The alternate crew, stranded on an uninhabited planet, is forced to make the best of the bad situation; from frontier life they build an advanced civilization.

A few short months later the "real" ship and crew encounter the descendants of the alternate crew. The real crew subsequently find the video archives of the lives of their alternate selves from 2000 years ago. Hold on, I am almost there. The medical person is watching footage of her alternate self's video documentary which shows her having trouble with her hand. At that moment, that very moment, I knew, and three minutes later it was confirmed; she had ALS. Her alternate self first observed symptoms five years after arriving on the planet and then died a few years later. The real character thus confronts the reality that she also has ALS and will die, unless of course the robotic drones kill her first.

Seeing that troubled hand and realizing the diagnosis before it was revealed, caught me off guard. When watching or reading fantasy, we want to escape from our reality. But seeing that troubled hand and hearing that diagnosis pulled me through my own wormhole and touched me in a way that surprised me. It rekindled my feelings when I first suspected, and was subsequently diagnosed with, ALS. This fantasy show turned into a reality show. As such, I felt a connection to that character that previously did not exist. That is the power of good storytelling.

To be honest, I try to avoid that experience. I have not read Tuesdays With Morrie nor do I read or watch other stories about people living with ALS. Because I know. I know how they felt, I know how I feel, I know what parts work today and which ones don't and which ones won't, and I know what ALS will ultimately do with my body. It is present in all I do and even more present in that which I can no longer do. And that is enough reality for me, I do not need it in my sci-fi.

There are still a few episodes of the series left to watch and contrary to the last paragraph, I am looking forward to finishing it; to see if that subplot has a greater purpose. I believe it does in the same way I believe that me having ALS serves some greater purpose; a purpose that I may never know. And that is the beauty of faith, there is hope in the hopeless.

Last updated: 9:20 am Tuesday, July 9, 2013

James Martin is a former attorney and graduate of Gonzaga University and Marquette Law School. He lives in Spring Prairie near Burlington. He has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. He is married with 6 kids. James is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the Gazette staff or management.

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