The actual transcript--slightly different from the one on the NPR.org/opinion site--is linked to my professional Web address at www.BenMattlin.com
For anyone who cares, here's the original long version of the Commentary--the one I submitted, before my editor made cuts to save precious broadcast minutes. Read on, keep listening, send links to friends and colleagues, and know that I'm always delighted to hear from you.
A GOOD ENOUGH YEAR
For me, the new year is as much about looking back as looking ahead. At least this time it is.
I turned 47 this past year. That in itself is miraculous. I was born with a neurological nuisance called spinal muscular atrophy. Nobody knew that at first. It can remain invisible for many years. Then it gradually, relentlessly weakens muscles.
In my case the weakening began at about six months. My mother noticed I wasn't developing as my older brother had. I didn't sit myself up, or stay up when put into a sitting position.
We now know that about half of the babies who manifest symptoms of S.M.A. die before the age of two. Their hearts and lungs become too weak to go on.
I was one of the lucky ones.
I've used a wheelchair my whole life and no longer have the strength to hold a pencil. Am I still one of the lucky ones?
I believe I am. Most days I feel lucky. Always have. So why do so many people feel sorry for me?
They don't know me, of course. They don't know that I was lucky enough to grow up in a good family, to graduate from Harvard, to get my writing published, even to marry and father two terrific little girls. I consider myself lucky for a lot of reasons.
Still, people who think they know me from what they see on the outside have said to me, "If I were like you, I'd kill myself."
This is supposed to be a compliment, I think. They mean to commend my perseverance, my pluckiness. So how come I want to say back, "No you wouldn't"?
(Or "If I were like YOU I'd want to kill myself, too!")
Yes, there are some people in terrible circumstances, with painful illnesses, who do want to die. But there are also many, many people living in conditions I don't envy--living in famine, in war-torn countries, or in abject poverty in this country--who retain a stubborn sense of hope and struggle on. People whose lives I wouldn't trade for my own.
It happens every day. Nothing all that extraordinary.
Don't get me wrong. I don't see myself as a kind of modern-day Tiny Tim, pointing out the good in people, cheering everybody up. No thank you. I reject holding myself up as an inspiration, an example of the triumph of the human spirit.
Anybody who really knows me knows that. At home I grouse and kvetch all the time. Why not? It runs in the family. Plus, life is rough. Especially for me, at times.
Like two years ago. 2008. I had to spend most of that year in a hospital bed. A surprise gastroenterological infection required emergency surgery. Then something went wrong under the knife. Myriad dangerous complications ensued. I nearly died.
But here I am to tell the tale. So yes, I do feel lucky. The year just past wasn't anything special. The usual assortment of good and bad. But it was blessedly drama-free, and after its predecessor that was enough to make it a good year.
Sure, I hope for better things ahead. I hope for continued good health for my family and myself. For our country and our world. I hope in the new year to do better than in the year just gone by. To finally get that book contract. To really master Facebook and Twitter. And to do more of these commentaries for NPR.
But even if most of that doesn't work out, I'd still say I'm lucky. Because sometimes just normal life is good enough. And for me, this life--life in a wheelchair--is normal. And that's good enough, too.