“You must submit to supreme suffering in order to discover the completion of joy.” John Calvin
“Long is the road from conception to completion.” Moliere
Précis: This post is about completing a task. SImple for many of you likely, but not always for me. As part of moving away from Chapel Hill, NC, I had to close and pack up my office at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thus, the task was putting together a bookcase to hold the books I need to continue with writing and whatever comes up in the future. The story lies in accomplishing the task.
“A consistent and heart-filled effort to completion is the foundation of excellent work.” Benjamin Watson
Background: Now, while my office was only about 110 sq. ft. in size, like most academicians, I expanded into the hallway with file cabinets and bookshelves. Forty years of research notebooks and textbooks occupied much of the space. But what to bring in terms of medical textbooks, and where would I put them in the new home?
I am not a mechanically-inclined person. In high school, my father was trying to teach me the basics of motor mechanics on my first motorcycle; I promptly stripped the threads on the single spark plug for the engine. My dad was slightly exasperated, but he eventually said, “You just gotta keep practicing and learn how to do some of these things.” I got better, but an engine mechanic I would never become.
Jump forward to North Carolina State University graduate school and the beginning of my PhD work in the late 1970s. One of my first tasks was assisting a senior graduate student in rejuvenating an amino acid analyzer (critical for assessing and quantitating many things related to proteins). It was a struggle, but George was a good teacher, and I survived mainly by posing for the picture when the job was finished. And we had a working amino acid analyzer back online in the laboratory.
Continuing in the trend, I have gotten better at putting things together over time. For example, in my 30’s, I did assemble a new Weber gas grill. But when the instructions say it should only take X minutes to accomplish the task, I have learned to add 3-4x the suggested time. I remember one weekend in my 50s working on my bathroom toilet, and yes, to stop it from leaking. After what seemed like 8 hours, the mission was accomplished. But you get my pattern; with time and serious effort, I can complete tasks like these described above, but I am just not inclined to do these tasks with ease. And now, any job I do is done in the presence of Parkinson’s.
“Real happiness lies in the completion of work using your own brains and skills.” Soichiro Honda
Assembling the Bookcase: In down-sizing, I brought with me ~15 textbooks (removed from 2 huge bookcases at work that had probably ~100 books). And sprinkled with other essential books [books on Parkinson’s, golf, and sports in general (I am keeping my copies of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books by J.R.R. Tolkien in a different place)], they need to be put somewhere when unpacked. If anything, I may not be neat, but I need things in order. Order could be partially restored by finding a place for these books besides being stacked on the floor. But it had to be the kind of bookcase capable of holding some large medical textbooks (the type that is >1200 pages in length and weighs at least 4-5 lbs). And I found the bookcase on Amazon.com, “Bon Augure Industrial Ladder Shelf, Rustic 5 Tier Leaning Bookshelf, Wood Metal Ladder Bookcase.” It seemed functional in form and not beautiful, but it’s a bookcase.
So began the journey. Unpacking the expertly wrapped box started my task. The instructions stated that assembly should take no more than ~40 minutes (sly words chosen here, more than a 1/2 hour but far less than a full hour). And with all 3-steps boldly stating, “DO NOT fully tighten all Allen bolts at this steps,” I thought, “This is going to take 3-4 hr, and now what are Allen bolts again?” And I found everything neatly packaged in bubble wrap, and there seemed to be 100 Allen bolts awaiting the single Allen wrench. I plunged head first and tried my best to follow the instructions. The good news was there was a well-placed hole for every Allen bolt, and no Allen bolts were missing.
By the end of the 1st hour, I was in a full sweat. By the 2nd hour, I was getting stiff due to the contortions needed to insert all of the Allen bolts. By the end of the 3rd hour, I was beginning to tighten up the many Allen bolts. By sometime approaching 3.5 hr, I stood the bookcase up and thought, “Let’s give it a few hours of standing there on its own.” And I rested, the task mainly accomplished.
The final step was adding books and ‘stuff’ to the shelves, remembering Susan’s words, “Please just don’t fill it full of books…please.” The finished product is pictured below.
“Today is a day of completion; I give thanks for this perfect day, miracle shall follow miracle and wonders shall never cease.” Florence Scovel Shinn
Bookcase, The Task, and Parkinson’s disease: Is there a moral to this story? How does this task relate to having Parkinson’s? From my perspective, we are met with challenges every day. While we had challenges before Parkinson’s entered our life, now we have its complications to consider. It would have been easy to pay the assembly fee and have someone come to assemble this bookcase for me. But I am stubborn and felt confident that I could complete the bookcase independently if given enough time. I had not precisely placed the role of Parkinson’s in this calculation of time, so it makes sense that it would take more time.
The bottom line, stay vigilant in your life challenges and keep trying to accomplish the task for that hour, that day, and for that week. If you let Parkinson’s control all of your actions, you lose a sense of self and begin to stop doing tasks. So stay the course, keep fighting your Parkinson’s at every turn, and maybe soon, you will complete some tasks (small or large). When you get it done, smile and say, that’s a good job. Task accomplished.
“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” Henri Frederic Amiel