Harry McMurtry’s 2015 Keynote, “Things can be better”

Harry McMurtry: 2015 Guest Speaker

Harry McMurtry

Things Can Be Better

On Sunday, November 8, 2015, we held our Porridge for Parkinson’s breakfast at the Vaughan Estate. The event was sold out, and 300 guests enjoyed fabulous breakfast cuisine prepared by our wonderful chefs. Special guest Harry McMurtry delivered this inspiring keynote speech and message that “Things Can Be Better”.

Harry McMurtry’s Keynote

It is often said by – and occasionally to – people with Parkinson’s that: “Things could be worse.” I do not find this sentiment helpful because, with this disease, things will get worse. But my message today is not a gloomy one.

I say: “Things can be better.” Just by you being here today, things are already looking up!

Let me tell you why I don’t like people saying, “Things could be worse.” Firstly, it invites comparison to others. When one says “things could be worse,” one is speaking in relative, not absolute, terms. One person’s life cannot be the measure of another’s. Rather, our lives have intrinsic value. We don’t say, “She is stronger; she must be better.” Or, “He is faster; his life must have more meaning.” Nor do we say, “She is sicker; she is less valuable.” One’s worth is not measured relative to others. Similarly, one’s worth today is not weighed in contrast to one’s worth yesterday. For those of us with Parkinson’s, the folly is to view our lives today through the prism of our healthy years. We are valuable because we are here.

Secondly, the phrase, “Things could be worse,” is undeniably pessimistic. It implies that things are already bad. While living with Parkinson’s is not easy, my life is still very much worth living!

My final objection to the use of this expression is that it promotes an unhealthy approach to living with Parkinson’s. As Mark Twain once warned: “Comparison is the death of joy.” A better strategy than comparing ourselves to others or to our earlier selves is to look for meaning in our current circumstances, whatever they may be. Hopefully, that search leads to fulfilment.

What is my strategy for living with Parkinson’s?

As a younger man, I was very fortunate to have had the privilege of working with children with disabilities. They taught me how to deal with adversity with dignity and without complaint. It was not that child’s fate or destiny to have a disability. Nor was it mine to have Parkinson’s. It just happened and now I live with it. I acknowledge it; I don’t accept it. If I accept it, then I will stop fighting it. I am an actor in my own play. As the famous biologist Richard Dawkins remarked, “I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free will.”

Things can be better. So, I had brain surgery; I take medication that is not only therapeutic but possibly neuroprotective; I exercise; I participate in all manner of clinical trials and studies, and I raise money for Parkinson’s research.

Currently, I am scripting my part to raise money to fight Parkinson’s and to heighten awareness of this disease. Next Spring, I plan to walk from New York City, my new home, to Toronto over a period of 45 days. Half a marathon a day. We are calling it, “500 Miles for Parkinson’s”. We have events planned in Manhattan and Toronto and more along the way. We are supporting three charities: The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Morton and Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Centre at Toronto Western Hospital, and the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Movement Disorders Center in New York. The walk is intended to bridge two great cities and two great countries in an effort to fight a common enemy, namely, Parkinson’s disease. Please visit our website at “fivehundredmiles.org”.

Things can be better. That’s why you are all here today. To make things better for yourselves, your loved ones and others.

Harry’s 500 miles

In 2005, at the age of 42, Harry McMurtry was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and just five years later, retired from a successful legal career. Harry was determined not to let the disease define him, and with improved mobility after successful DBS surgery, he decided to get involved. With his wife Deborah Bradley, he attended and organized numerous PD events that ultimately led to his fundraising initiative, 500 Miles for Parkinson’s. In 2016, after careful planning and training, Harry and his team (including fellow walker Sue Thompson) completed a remarkable walk from his home in New York City to his hometown of Toronto, allowing him to raise funds in both countries.