Saturday, December 9, 2023 -
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One day, truly, Back to the Future

I was first smitten with him as Alex P. Keaton, then as Marty McFly. Only afterward did I learn his real name, Michael J. Fox.

It was clear upon watching him in both “Family Ties” and “Back To The Future” that he was bound for fame and greatness. Which time has shown Michael J. Fox truly to be, a man of greatness, though not mainly for acting. His staggering talent has brought him a different kind of fame.

Not that he did not achieve fame as an actor for his special brand of charm, charisma and humor; it was almost instantaneous.

Yet his legacy has transcended the oftentimes more superficial world of acting and entertainment.

I must say, though, watching his Marty McFly was watching a classic in the making; we’re talking one of the top three teenagers in cinema history, probably. Marty and his sidekick Christopher Lloyd’s quirky Doc Emmett Brown — does it get any better than this duo? One of cinemas best pairings, if ever there was one.

These legends constitute the stuff that childhood magic is made of.

They introduced the quirky urgency of the word gigawatts and endless more perfect lines and moments that were spellbinding in their flawless humor, acting and joy.

What great stories, characters and acting. “Back To The Future” went beyond the usual trivial entertainment. It stayed with you.

While I practically know “Back To The Future” by heart, a couple of my siblings actually do know the movie in its entirety by heart.

We all saw it together as a family, which was rare and special for us. I’ve sometimes wondered whether that’s why I remember and think of “Back To The Future” so fondly, but then I’ll catch some of the movie, re-watching, and nope, while the sentimental memory definitely adds a special layer to the movie for me, it just really comes down to the fact that it is simply a perfect film. And for me, watching it fills me with that forever young feeling.

In keeping with the movie’s theme of time travel, I wonder sometimes, had Michael J. Fox in fact travelled to the future and seen his destiny of being dealt a rough hand, of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29, what would he have done? How might he have responded?

It seems no time travel or speculation is necessary.

For 32 years, Michael J. Fox has lived this out for all of us to learn from.

We have all come to know what Michael J. Fox models and personifies in this world.

Strength. Determination. Resilience. Humor. Grace. Dignity. Leadership. Humility. Empathy. Responsibility.

These are just some of the big words. Michael J. Fox brings them definition, brings them to life in how he has chosen to deal with his disease, in how he has coped with adversity for a sustained amount of time.

For decades that grew into a lifetime. I have always rooted for him and always will.

I still remember when I first read about his diagnosis. Being more than a decade younger than him, I was pretty young at the time. Michael J. Fox? Parkinson’s?? It was confusing and upsetting. It felt personal, because we all loved Michael J. Fox. He’s the charmer whizzing by on his skateboard to the “The Power of Love.” He felt like a part of our childhoods and coming of age. He brought us so much laughter and joy. Besides, I had thought of Parkinson’s as an older person’s disease.

I bought his first book when it came out. For me, reading it was an exercise in Musar, as we call it in our Jewish tradition. My admiration for him deepened to something more than a fan of a superb and beloved actor, to almost one of a student learning from a teacher, a teacher of life; from a fountain of honest, and painfully earned, wisdom.

It’s hard to watch Michael J. Fox’s struggle and the progression of his disease. I have profound respect for his fight. For his humanity. And for all people who experience daily pain and suffering, whose accomplishment of daily activities is a feat of strength.

Michael J. Fox has come to represent the resilience and plight of millions of people who endure painful daily challenges, coping with disease. Anonymous people and, more closely, those whom we know and love in our own lives. He has carried on with such incredible dignity for over 30 years. He lives days fraught and riddled with pain, for even the simplest of tasks.

And yet. Against so many odds. He carries on.

Parkinson’s may have beat Michael J. Fox’s physical abilities, but it hasn’t beaten him. No way.

The truth is, a part of me still sees Michael J. Fox as the teen whizzing by on his skateboard. But it was his words about not surrendering to his disease, not letting it beat him, that were so inspiring this week, as he was bestowed with a prestigious award.

With his characteristic humor, he injects one liners into his more serious words about the lens from which he chooses to frame his diagnosis — as a gift. An oft repeated message of his. “Parkinson’s is a gift. The gift that keeps on taking,” he quips.

Beyond his humor, when you read his books, and if you have followed his journey, not only do you know that Michael J. Fox sincerely sees and lives his Parkinson’s in exactly this vein, as a gift. Remarkably, he rises to it. He acts on it. He has dedicated his life to it. And in turn, passed that priceless life gift onto each and every one of us.

Pre-COVID, I had run the 5K FoxTrot in Riverside Park for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. I read the literature they distributed.

I believe his foundation will one day find a cure for Parkinson’s. Many people around the world will one day truly go Back To The Future with Michael J. Fox.

This will ultimately be his legacy. In a sense, it already is.

Regardless, Michael J. Fox’s inspiration and fight has taught us. He, the extraordinary life he lives and models, is timeless.

G-d bless you, Michael.

Thank you for all you have done to make this world a better place.

Thank you for fighting the good fight.

You are a beacon of hope to many of us.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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