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ATTITUDES

Comes an Echo: 'In the Meantime, We Just Have to Have Patience'

July 01, 1993|AURORA MACKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's frightening sometimes, this generational echo that reverberates through my home.

It comes, billowing through the decades, at the breakfast table. While dinner is on the stove and the kids are arguing outside. At nighttime, while talking from the edge of my sons' beds.

It is an echo in words: The same ones my father or mother once used to me or my siblings.

"Because I said so, that's why.' '

I never set out to repeat this dictum--one my father gave so often when he had reached the end of his explanatory rope. Generally, in fact, the conversations between me and my children start out as rational discussions.

I fully realize that you want to see "Jurassic Park," I had said to my kids, during one recent disagreement. But it's far too violent. Even Steven Spielberg won't take his own kids to see it.

It's not too violent, they wailed back. Billy saw it and he didn't think it was scary.

If Billy told you to go play on the freeway would you do it? Oops.

But everyone says it's good, they argued.

If that many people like it, there must be something wrong with it . Oops again.

There obviously is an unstoppable tape player in my head. It loops around and around, just as it does for Barbara Walters of Simi Valley.

Walters, though, has used the generational echo for a different purpose. And it is the words of her father, she said, that helped her win an award last Saturday. Because of him, she said, she was singled out from hundreds in the county whose lives are similar to her own.

"As a kid, sometimes I'd say 'Why me?' " the soft-spoken Walters says. "And my father would say, 'Well, why not you?' He always said not to look at the dark side."

That dark side easily could have become the focus of her life. Ten years ago, Walters, then 37 and newly married, was told she had multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease with no known cause, cure or treatment.

Almost instantly, Walters says, she was filled with fear. Would she end up in a wheelchair? Lose her job? Become dependent on others to care for her? Would it affect her 6-month-old marriage?

The answers came slowly, and in no particular order.

"I have a terrific husband," she says, adding that they were advised by doctors not to have children. "He has stood by me thick and thin, high and low."

One early low was having to give up a job which, although stressful, she loved. Stress, physicians say, worsens a patient's condition.

"I had to learn how to let things go emotionally," she says. "But I didn't know how to do that."

Her father apparently did. "He had always said life was a matter of perspective, that the cup is always half full, and not half empty,"' she says. "I'd draw on that."

Then, two years ago, her father died of cancer. And the things he'd said through the years flooded her.

When his voice came back to her, little things like her husband's strewn socks and whiskers in the sink no longer bothered her. When she lost all sensation in still another limb, she'd try to see the cup as half full.

"Every time you lose a part of your body, you are in mourning. And you have to go through that," she says. "But then you have to say, 'OK, fine, that's gone. Now I have to make do the best I can."

Walter's best efforts--and the hopeful spirit she has imparted to others with MS--hasn't gone unnoticed. On Saturday, she was honored with the MS Achievement Award, given to one person each year by the local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The award, says Channel Islands chapter President Joan Young, was for "showing, by her example, how to make a difference in the lives of others."

Young says Walters took on the leadership of a Simi Valley support group, helping others to deal with their challenges.

She became an early advocate of accessibility issues, urging support group members to heighten awareness in the community.

Most of all, say support group members such as Carol Maciag, who was found to have MS two years ago, Walters has been a friend and source of strength.

"Without her, I think I still would be saying that I had the wrong diagnosis," Maciag says. "I was in such denial. I haven't lost my fear, but she has showed me there is life after this disease."

Again, it is an attitude Walters says she learned from her father. And his lessons come through the generational echo:

"His favorite saying was: 'Something may happen to you in your life and you may not like it, but there is always a reason why.' He said it always works out for the better, but we won't know until down the road.

"In the meantime, we just have to have patience."

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