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At the start of last week, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. Some work issues, some financial worries, too many obligations … welcome to the club, right?

I was also wickedly hung over, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I got a message from a friend inviting me to a test screening of a film he’s just produced, written by yet another old friend. The timing was less than ideal, and the notice was short. It was also set for an hour and place that would put me square in the middle of the very worst rush hour traffic that LA has to offer.

I immediately said yes.

Why, you may ask? Well, first off, my friend the producer has never been anything short of a total mensch. For those of you unfamiliar with the trappings of Hollywood, this is extremely rare. He is smart, loyal, has good taste, has had a nice amount of success because of these traits, and deserves far more. No one works harder.

This is really about my other friend, though. The writer. I won’t use his name here but some of you likely know him. He and I both went to The University of Michigan, though we didn’t meet until we wound up out here at almost the same exact time. We rose up through the executive ranks at about the same pace. Then, he segued to writing (and, in his case, directing) at about the same time as I did. We even got married around the same time.

Then, he got diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

ALS is a cruel, degenerative disease with no cure. The average life expectancy for a person who develops the condition is two to three years. My friend was only in his thirties at the time. We all still thought we were immortal.

Over the next couple of years, we found out how wrong we truly were. My friend went from having trouble walking and occasionally slurring his words to being in a wheelchair full time. He couldn’t move his legs. Then, he lost the ability to use his arms and hands. I had to feed him when we went to lunch, which is something his sweet and amazing wife did at every other meal, along with all the other things that need to be done for someone who is stricken in this way.

At a certain point, after I moved and regretfully lost touch with him, my friend lost the ability to speak as well. Though his mind remained alert, and fertile as ever, it was trapped inside a body that had now been thoroughly ravaged.

He never quit writing, though. He always found a way. First, through a special computer set-up.  Then, via dictation. And then, when his movements became restricted to labored breathing and blinks of the eye, through the same “language” featured prominently in the Julian Schnabel film Diving Bell and the Butterfly. His wife serves as his patient stenographer, using these simple gestures to interpret and record every letter, every syllable, every word, every sentence.

These remarkable efforts have resulted in two produced films in the last five years, one of which he also directed.

Speaking of fertility, that is another way in which my friend and his wife have proven inspirational. On top of the devastating diagnosis, the couple had always wanted to have children. Could they still do it now? Should they? The two were understandably uncertain, and torn, for a variety of reasons.

However, as my friend continued to defy the odds, living years beyond what was expected, they ultimately made the decision to go forward. The happy result was two beautiful blonde boys, twins, now two years old.

Those boys are old enough now to start building some memories of their father. What they will no doubt come to learn and appreciate about him, like those of us who have known him much longer, is that he has lived his life to the very fullest,  and refused to let anything stop him from achieving his dreams.

And really, is there any more important lesson for a father to teach his children than that?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Count your blessings.

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