My Hero, My Wife, And A Purple Donkey

Recent events have reminded me that behind every good man stands a better woman, a Hillary to inspire the dreamer in Bill. Please forgive the redundancy in the title, but this post is about only one such woman. Ellie is my wife and my hero–and a purple donkey, too. Usually, she inspires me to write about ordinary people who strive to live up to lofty ideals; today, on our 26th wedding anniversary, she inspired me to write about her.

The better woman idea actually germinated in the aftermath of Wienergate. A roundtable of prominent women appeared on “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour to explore whether more women in positions of power could change the trend of leaders behaving badly. The ladies convinced me that a more direct route to achieving our political goals might be to cut out the middlemen, allowing the Hillarys to negotiate solutions directly rather than simply inspiring egomaniacal Bills to butt heads (among other anatomical collisions).

Then a delightful little episode swept my thoughts closer to home. In my latest novel I created a character based loosely on Ellie, an angelic woman who radiates goodness and spreads joy like a contagion among all she meets. Always humble, Ellie thinks I exaggerate her mystique. Maybe I do, but she so enchanted a planeload of folks flying to Florida the other day that one of them was moved to write: “I met Ellie at the airport yesterday because she gave up her seat so a family with their elderly parent in a wheelchair could all sit together and she sat across from me. After telling her that was so nice to see a good deed, we started talking. Never have I seen a wave of warmth engulf a group of strangers! It all happened quickly before I was aware of it, everyone in our area were talking, laughing, sharing their lives.”

I dream of making the world a better place by spreading ideas; Ellie makes it happen, one person at a time, with her selflessness and a smile. She is my hero.

Enter the purple donkey.

Fifteen years ago, when Beanie Babies were the rage, I managed to secure three as holiday gifts, two long-forgotten dolls for my young boys and a liberal-minded donkey named “Lefty” for Ellie. (I have been informed many times that Lefty is, in fact, blue, but I am colorblind in every sense of the word, and that original purple impression has stuck.) With the joy of a child who grew up with few toys, she has animated Lefty with a distinctive personality, a dancing mule who cracks wise, passes gas, and is a lock to win every staring contest.

At great risk of permanent damage to my manhood, I will reveal that Lefty has become an integral participant in a bedtime ritual Ellie has been perfecting over the years. As we lie beside each other, Lefty and I engage in a series of orchestrated high-fives and hip-hop moves best left on the dance floor and end with our fists thrust in the air as Ellie and I recite: “strength, honor and integrity, and love–true love–never dies.”

I know it seems like the corniest thing ever, but this family credo evolved from a couple of favorite movie scenes that resonated in our hearts. The opening battle in Gladiator when Russell Crowe and his Roman forces exhort each other to fight with “strength and honor!” The Everything A Boy Needs To Know About Becoming A Man Speech in Secondhand Lions when Robert Duvall lectures his nephew that “honor, courage and virtue mean everything,” that “money and power mean nothing,” that “good always triumphs over evil,” and that “love….true love never dies!”

Strength. Honor. Integrity. True Love. They’re “just” words, but words that joyfully communicate everything for which Ellie and her little purple donkey stand. When the rascally urges that plague all men yank me in the wrong direction, those words resonate in my subconscious, appealing not to the disapproval of an omniscient God but to the approval of a woman who radiates goodness, spreading sweetness and light to everyone she meets. She is my hero, and this is my anniversary message of undying love to her, delivered free of any high-fives and disco moves that might dilute the sentiment. Like the films that delight us, the printed word lives forever.

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  • Larry and Ellie Kahn

  • When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010, my neurologist told me there was nothing I could do to slow down an inevitable slide into disability. So I simply (apathetically?) went about the business of researching my third novel for over a year until I crossed paths with others who had discovered a curiously overlooked goldmine of scientific research suggesting vigorous exercise could help slow the progression of PD and improve quality of life.

     

    After experiencing the impact of exercise myself, my wife, Ellie, and I began brainstorming with other believers about how to effectively spread the gospel of exercise and hope.  We formed PD Gladiators in 2013, a nonprofit charged with developing a plan to ally metro Atlanta fitness instructors and clinicians to convince people with PD to take a proactive approach to managing their disease. PD Gladiators entered agreements with the Atlanta YMCA, Livramento Delgado Boxing Foundation, Yellow River Center and other independent fitness instructors to build a network of PD-specific exercise classes based on PD Gladiators’ promise to promote the exercise research and the PD Gladiators Fitness Network to local clinicians to create the referral “pipeline” necessary to make the adapted fitness programs sustainable. I believe recruiting the support of influential clinicians in our community from the start was the critical insight that has led to the phenomenal growth of the Network.

     

    By 2018, the Network consisted of over 60 weekly classes, and metro Atlanta “gladiators” logged almost 25,000 class visits for the year! On August 1, 2018, the Parkinson’s Foundation and PD Gladiators determined they could better serve the needs of the Parkinson’s community through an organizational unification. Ellie and I served on the Advisory Board for the Parkinson’s Foundation Georgia until retiring in October 2019. PD Gladiators Executive Director Annie Long continues to manage and grow the Network as an employee of the Parkinson’s Foundation.

     

    Ellie and I still practice the proactive, hopeful approach that we  preach. With Ellie’s loving support, I exercise daily, eat a nutritious diet supplemented as recommended by Dr. Laurie Mischley (a Parkinson’s researcher and naturopathic doctor practicing in Seattle), and have adopted good sleep habits. While excited to begin the retirement we had deferred to nurture PD Gladiators, I intend to devote some of my energy–without stress and deadlines–to brainstorm ideas for other areas of Parkinson’s care in need of intervention  for consideration by government and charitable organizations with the mission and resources to undertake these projects.

     

    I believe that problem-solving is a team sport, and I encourage you to join in the discussion. Let’s make Parkinson’s Ideas, Man an incubator for high impact solutions to the issues that effect us most.