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Marolt: Discovering the cure for complacency

The human spirit is neither indomitable nor indefatigable despite what is once in a while noticed in a few explorers and adventurers at select moments and which then can be witnessed on YouTube to make us believe that we are designed never to give up.

I can go along with the "spirit" part. It's the "human" where the whole idea falls short. Personally being human and knowing from experience, it is entirely normal for our type of spirit to be imperfectly weak and in need of help. It is no crime to be fatigable.

And so I convinced myself that it would be OK this year not to write about the Hike for Hope happening Sunday morning at Buttermilk Mountain (a name, come to think of it, obviously designed to bolster our perception of the spirit of that hill). I have written about this event annually. It has special meaning to me. I love it. Yet I convinced myself that I didn't have to do it again this year. My justification? I said it was because there was nothing else to say about it. In the deepest reaches of my heart where words hide beyond the lip's reach, I asked the question that always marks the point of surrender — what good does it do, anyway?

Then Linda Keleher died on New Year's Eve. Linda was a great woman. To go on and on about a person after they have left us is to try too hard, and a eulogy can start to sound like an excuse in about the second paragraph and prove itself as such by the third. For those who knew her ­­­— and especially for those who didn't — it is enough to say that Linda was funny, smart, and kind and then leave it alone. Heaven is a better place since her arrival.

Back in this world, Linda's connection to this story is that she had a son who died from muscular dystrophy when he was a boy. The Kelehers lived next door, and I wasn't much older than John. I was old enough to conceptualize death and young enough to be terrified of it; the faith-based knowledge of life eternal came much later. Watching him go from being as physically able as any other kid in the neighborhood — besides Kevin Conner, who was an athletically gifted freak of nature — to crutches to wheelchair to motorized wheelchair was a haunting mystery. His death solved that mystery in a way I didn't see coming.

It was cruel reality. The light that eventually dispelled the darkness of it was his family's reaction. I'm not talking about their immediate reaction; I don't remember that. I am speaking of the enduring reaction that I came to know as strength based in faith — hope.

Now that Linda has been mercifully reunited with her son in the clutches of God's great embrace, it is a fair-enough question to ask exactly what kept her strong. We all would love to know what that was, understanding that someday we will need it too in our own times of this world's deepest sufferings. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly what it was. I only know it was real.

This thought reinvigorated my zeal for spreading the word on Hike for Hope. There is no need to get discouraged about the slow pace in the progress for finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy or any other disease that ravages the human body. It is not only about reversing genetic code that has gone haywire or eradicating pathogens bent on destroying flesh. A huge part about the fight against disease is to alleviate suffering. We all suffer when loved ones are ill.

I don't know what the Hike for Hope meant to Linda Keleher. I can only guess, and my guess is that it was part of many things that helped her lead such a beautiful life for so many years after the death of her child. For those who would say that expending effort to find a cure for a horrible disease that targets children that has eluded us for decades is an exhausting effort that requires pacing oneself and that it's OK to forget about it for a while until there appears some tangible proof that it is working, like I had been saying to myself, the answer is in looking at people like Linda and seeing that they not only endure but thrive in spite of what looks like a lousy deal.

Events like Hike for Hope are working wonders everyday. It's just that the proof isn't always where we look for it.

Roger Marolt can be reached at roger@maroltllp.com.