Commentator Ben Mattlin doesn't mind sharing his hopes for the new year.

BEN MATTLIN: For me, this new year is as much about looking back as looking ahead.

I turned 47 in the past year, which in itself is miraculous, actually. I was born with a neurological nuisance called spinal muscular atrophy. It gradually and relentlessly weakens muscles. In my case, this weakening began at 6 months old. About half of the babies with SMA symptoms die before age 2. Their hearts and lungs become too weak to go on. I was one of the lucky ones.

I've used a wheelchair my whole life. I no longer have the strength to hold a pencil. Am I still one of the lucky ones? I believe I am. So, why do so many people feel sorry for me?

They don't know that I grew up in a good family, graduated from Harvard, get my writing published, have a wife and two terrific girls. There are a lot of reasons I consider myself lucky. Still, people have said to me, if I were like you, I'd kill myself.

This is supposed to be a compliment, I think. They mean to commend my perseverance. So how come I want to say back, if I were like you, I'd probably kill myself, too?

Yes, there are people in terrible circumstances with painful illnesses, who do want to die. But there are also many others who live in conditions I wouldn't trade for my own, such as famine, war, abject poverty. Yet they retain a stubborn sense of hope and struggle on.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a modern-day Tiny Tim, trying to cheer everybody up. I reject holding myself up as a example of the triumph of the human spirit. At home, I kvetch and grouse all the time. It runs in the family. Plus, life is rough - like two years ago. I spent most of 2008 in a hospital bed. An infection required emergency surgery. Then, something went wrong under the knife. I nearly died.

But here I am. So yes, I do feel lucky; 2009 wasn't anything special, but it was blessedly drama-free. And that's enough to make it a good year. Sure, I hope for better in the new year. But even if I don't get that, I'd still say I'm lucky. Because sometimes, just normal is good enough.

INSKEEP: Ben Mattlin, a writer in Los Angeles who's working on a memoir. You can comment on his essay on our Opinion Page, at npr.org.

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