Michael J. Fox’s New Memoir Showcases his Optimism, but is That All There Is?

Michael J. Fox lands a role in the second season of ‘Designated Survivor’ | REUTERS / MARIO ANZUONI

Michael J. Fox is one of the iconic actors of our generation. Whether you remember him from the TV sitcom Family Ties, the movie Back to the Future, or his numerous other shows and films, you probably have a mental image of an upbeat, irreverent, witty guy. And you’d be right.

His fourth memoir was published on Tuesday. No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality reads as if Fox is talking directly to us. He tells the now-familiar story of his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease at the age of twenty-nine and the decades he has battled its effects. He has become a world-leading activist for treatments and a cure, creating a foundation which has funded $1 billion in Parkinson’s research over the years.

But Fox also tells of surgery two years ago to remove a benign tumor from his spinal cord, a difficult procedure that was successful but required him to relearn how to walk as a result. Four months later, he fell in his Manhattan home, causing a spiral fracture of his left arm that required nineteen pins and a plate to stabilize.

He describes eloquently his gratitude for his wife, Tracy, and her courage, grace, and wisdom that have sustained him through their decades of marriage. His love for their four children and his close friends is tangible. Through it all, his trademark optimism shines bright.

In fact, it is fair to say that optimism comes close to a faith commitment for Fox.

“I’m losing my religion” 

At one point, Fox states that he is not a “subscriber to any particular orthodoxy.” However, he speaks of optimism as “my faith.”

The problem is that, in the midst of his recent physical struggles, he feared “losing my religion.” He began to wonder, “Have I oversold optimism as a panacea, commodified hope?” In the midst of his pain, he admitted, “My attempt to make any sense of it leaves me feeling indifferent. I’m numb. Weary. Optimism, as a frame of mind, is not saving me.”

Eventually, however, his perspective deepened: “I’m beginning to see that faith, or fear’s opposite, can be expressed as gratitude, which has always been the bedrock of my optimism.”

His book closes: “Really, it comes down to gratitude. I am grateful for all of it—every bad break, every wrong turn, and the unexpected losses—because they’re real. It puts into sharp relief the joy, the accomplishments, the overwhelming love of my family. I can be both a realist and an optimist” (his emphasis).

Reading Fox’s memoir was bittersweet for me. I thoroughly enjoyed his humorous stories and self-deprecating wit. It was inspiring to see the unconditional love of his wife and children for him. But his faith in gratitude-based optimism ultimately leaves both Fox and his reader short.

One comes away with the question, “Is this all there is?”

Beware the “hedonic treadmill” 

Michael J. Fox’s memoir is the story of secular America at its most aspirational. Achieving success through talent and hard work while enduring struggles through perseverance and the love of family and friends—this is the best many hope for.

Fox is right in a sense: happiness is far less the result of our circumstances than our response to them. Psychologists refer to the “hedonic treadmill” as “the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.”

However, we were made for more than happiness.

Happiness depends on happenings, circumstances that are often beyond our control. Biblical joy is different. It has been described as “a sense of wellbeing that transcends circumstances.” (For more, see my latest video, “What does the Bible say about joy?“)

We can be happy or sad in the moment, but we can “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). How?

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Christian Post, Jim Denison