5-16-11: A Professional Background
Dudley Clendinen is an award-winning author and journalist who lives here in Baltimore. A former reporter and editorial writer for The New York Times, he found out in November, at age 66, that he has Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
There is no known cure for ALS, and once a person is diagnosed, they usually live between 1.5 to 3 years.
Over the past few months, Dudley has been speaking with Tom Hall about living with ALS. In this conversation, he talks about his professional background as a journalist. In the 1970s, he spent a year on Florida’s death row, interviewing the inmates there. Now, like them, he’s waiting for the end to come. “The one thing that tends to happen in a profound way in prison is that they turn to religion,” says Dudley. “They learn to try to draw faith in something larger than themselves.”
Dudley says that’s something that’s happened to him over through a 12-step program for alcoholics. “One of the things they teach you is: you’re not in control. If you’ve got a big problem, share the load. Turn it over. Believe in the present moment and your ability to get through it, but believe in the collective love and wisdom of others who are with you and care for you, and have had similar experiences, and can help you.”
The 12-step process led Dudley back to the Episcopalian church. “If we have a faith, we share a belief and feeling that the faith we have comforts us, and we do not have the power to heal ourselves or our situations. But if we give over that responsibility, we will find comfort and wisdom in the moment in which we live, because we really can’t worry about tomorrow. We never get there.”
Tom asks Dudley about whether he IS nervous about tomorrow. “I’m not afraid,” says Dudley. “I am concerned…you have to plan. If you want to be vital and meaningful in ways that are meaningful to you, you want to do your own research. Have the conversations, find the representatives, say the words, write down the lists that inform people what your wishes and choices and desires are.”
Dudley says he doesn’t believe in the argument that his life is being cut short. “I don’t think it’s up to us. We’re not in charge. If you’re going to whine about faith, you’re not going to be a happy person. You’re not going to be good to be around….I would rather use the time I have to do things that I think are loving and interesting. And if I’m angry and grumpy about my biology, I’m not going to be good company for myself or anyone else.”
You can listen to all of the conversations we’ve had with Dudley in the series “Living with Lou: Dudley Clendinen on a Good, Short Life,” here, at this link.