Sunday was a momentous day for me. I sat between my father and my son in church. When the communion tray was passed down our aisle, it came to my father first. Normally, this would be a less than ideal circumstance. Both my dad and I suffer with a benign essential tremor. Dad’s is worse, affecting his hands, his head, his voice. Sitting next to him, I could feel the pew shaking against his tremor. While mine is not as progressed, my mom says that I am worse than he was at my age. Both of us have had to learn to participate in communion differently. I have grown to appreciate those traditions that practice intinction, largely because it has become impossible for me to manage the little cups in the tray that mark my tradition’s practice. Following my father’s lead, I have for awhile now held the little piece of bread I break off and dip it into the tiny little cup when it comes my way later.
So, you can imagine that the prospect of getting a tray of fully loaded juice cups past the two of us would have been made for an anxious communion moment.
I have written before about how isolating disease and in particular this tremor can be. You unconsciously find yourself keeping yourself from situations that expose your condition. My left hand stays in my pocket a lot. I work to make sure I don’t have to pass anything to anyone with my left hand, a strategy less affective the worse my right hand has gotten. And communion has become one of those places where I feel most exposed, and as a result, excluded.
But Sunday, I reached past my dad to take the tray from the server and after he dipped his bread in a cup I held the tray with my left hand while I took a cup with my right and successfully brought it to my lips. I can’t tell you what an amazing moment that was.
Over the past month I have had two operations that comprise a procedure called deep brain stimulation. The short of it is that they run wires into my brain and hook them to stimulators that they put in my chest. The stimulators boost the signal that the brain sends to my hands, taking out the tremors. And while a neurologist is still in process of finding just the right settings for my stimulators, I already have enough improvement to hold a communion tray with one hand while I serve myself with the other.
I have been restored to a practice important to my life. I am thankful for the doctors and those who figured out this process and those patients brave enough to do it before it came to me a more perfected procedure. I have six new scars and two batteries hanging like ornaments from my clavicle. But my life has been changed and in ways that I’m sure I’m not fully aware of yet.
My dad is thinking about the process for himself. I hope he can see his way to do it. It’s been an ordeal and easier for a 52 year old perhaps than for a 73 year old. But I certainly want for him the new life that has come to me on the other side of the surgeries. Maybe someday he can pass communion to me.