Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.