I first saw him one Sunday morning as I exited church.
A man in his early 50s, he was carrying boxes to an information table at the back of the church. His hands were trembling in a way that was familiar to me.
My heart went out to him.
"Look," I whispered to my wife, Hedy. "That fellow has Parkinson's."
I know something about the disease. My dad had it. I have it.
Parkinson's is a degenerative brain disorder with no known cure. It causes nerve cells to die or become impaired, and patients exhibit such symptoms as tremors or shaking, slowness of movement, rigidity or stiffness, and balance difficulties. Other signs include a shuffling gait, cognitive problems or muffled speech.
Hedy squeezed my arm.
"Why don't you go over and speak to him," she urged.
I've lived with this disease in my family for nearly two decades. I was first diagnosed seven years ago. My father died of complications from Parkinson's in 2006.
My instinct was not to interfere in the life of the gentleman carrying the boxes. I'm far more comfortable being unobtrusive. I took the easy way out and turned and headed for the door. I promptly forgot about him.
The following Sunday I was similarly convicted. I again saw him at the back of the church, lugging materials to an information table. This time I was silent and said nary a word to my spouse.
We chatted with friends, then beat a hasty retreat. We had lunch plans.
The third week Hedy made a beeline for a friend at the end of the service. I stood alone for a few moments in the back of the church, absentmindedly shuffling my sermon notes.
I saw him again.
This time I was compelled by some internal force to walk over to him. I did so impulsively and without a strategy.
"Excuse me, do you have Parkinson's?" was my ham-fisted approach.
I knew by his expression that I'd taken too direct a tact. He seemed put-off by my inquiry, and I can't say I blame him.
How would I have felt, had someone approached me in the same manner? I'd surely have thought, "Is my Parkinson's so obvious that a perfect stranger can spot it from across a room?" I'd have been hurt.
He nodded silently.