A Fruitless Reconnoiter.

By: Jen Shoop

We watched Michael J. Fox’s “Still” biopic earlier this week, and I found it deeply moving, beautifully edited and paced, and inventive in its splicing of film footage, reenactment, and interview. Normally, reenactments are cringe-y, shadowy affairs — heavy footsteps up grainy stairwells — but this movie handled the transitions with such finesse that I occasionally forgot what was what. Incredible sleight of hand, if you think about it, and what it really said to me was that this movie was an act of tremendous love. There is a great quote by Arthur Clarke that runs: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and I found myself thinking adjacently that any production borne of tremendous love and attention to detail yields analogous sorcery. It was clear, watching “Still,” that the crew had taken great pains to hide any signs of duct tape. The result was a lofting testament to a man of humility, humor, perspective, strength who is showing us how to live a graceful life with a degenerative disease.

I have been thinking with increasing un-ease about a line in the movie in which Fox describes his Parkinson’s Disease as “cosmic payback for his success.” I found myself wanting to reassure him that sometimes horrible things just happen, seeking an intellectual wedge that might separate the frailty of our human bodies from the richness of our lived experiences. I spluttered in thought afterwards. On the one hand, his comment brought to mind the adage “to whom much is given, much is expected” and the corollary that “God gives you what you can handle,” in which case, Fox has clearly stepped up to the plate and used his wealth and his diagnosis to advance medical research on the disease. But on the other hand —

A few years ago, and I fully realize the triviality of this example in relation to Fox’s experience, I wrote an essay straining to make sense of a haphazard injury. I’d tripped over the lip of a rug in my apartment while six months pregnant and split my forehead open. I had to have ten stitches right down the middle of my face, but the baby was blessedly OK. I speculated for weeks about what this could possibly mean. Was it “cosmic payback” for my own vanity? Was it a sign that I needed to stop rushing, to slow down? Was it a wake-up call I hadn’t yet fully unpacked?

A chorus of Magpies assured me: “sometimes accidents just happen.” And one reader responded to my fledgling navel-gazing by sharing that she had delivered a stillborn baby, and that she refused to believe that her tragedy was anything but a tragedy. I think of her all the time.

I’ve been sitting in this disarray for years now, unable to reconcile her heartfelt, hard-earned, valid observation with the tenets of my faith in any tidy way. And maybe that’s OK. The older I get, the less certain I feel about anything but the centricity of love in a life well-spent. Which is to say: perhaps my charter in life is not to reconnoiter the exact perimeter lines between fate and free will. Perhaps those will always feel blurry and renegotiable and categorically imprecise. I am learning that those may not be the questions I am here to answer — to let others more lawyerly or capable of complexity or faith-enriched dig in that soil. Instead, perhaps I am meant to be asking how love can lead me through those times of confusion. Maybe it is not “why did this happen?” but “how can I meet this moment as my most loving self?”

Which is to say: perhaps it is not my place to think anything at all about Fox’s assessment of his diagnosis, but simply to sit in empathy.


+A poem on parenting that I love.

+On flow as an intention for the 2023 year.

+One of the best practical resolutions I had for this year — it’s completely changed the pace and feel of my everyday life.

Shopping Break.

+I just ordered this Goop tinted lip balm in the peony color after my friend Lauren recommended it! Definitely having a Goop beauty moment. I also ordered the exfoliator so many of you raved about and cannot wait to give a thorough review. My sister’s friend messaged me to say that she loves this exfoliator so much that she bought “a back up of the back up” (!). Do you have any beauty products like that? That you can’t possibly imagine living without and therefore buy in a panic every few months? The two items that come to mind for me are Kevyn Aucoin’s SSE (I have very dark circles under my eyes and this is the only thing that really covers them — if you buy it, don’t panic at how thick and pigmented it is. You only need a tiny bit applied in the inner corner of your eye and then blended well with a beauty blender) and, increasingly (!), this Merit brush, which I now use to apply foundation/tinted moisturizer as well as bronzer and blush. It is SO GOOD at blending products invisibly without lifting color off your face. I swear it has changed my beauty application process. Actually, after writing this paragraph, I ordered a second brush just to have on hand!

+Adore this gingham maxi skirt. I have a blue gingham skirt that is similar that I bought from Gap two or three years ago and wear EVERY season without fail.

+My kind of utility pant.

+Chic summer blouse to pair with jeans.

+My daughter has been asking to “borrow” my State Bags belt bag, which I have in a hot pink color (no longer available) and wear all the time. I especially like it for hands-free dog walking and taking walks with my neighbor, which we now do every Wednesday. Anyhow, I bought her this strawberry belt bag of her own!

+We love a hot pink moment. This looks like something by Ciao Lucia or Ulla Johnson!

+A bold beach/picnic blanket! This brand also makes really great, thin, packable towels. I used to keep these under our stroller when we spent lots of time at the splash pads in Central Park.

+I mentioned this recently, but this coffee maker is our obsession. It’s sort of a hybrid between drip coffee and pour over and yields the smoothest, most delicious cup. Mr. Magpie grinds our beans daily for it. Could be a good coffee upgrade for your home, or a wonderful Father’s Day gift for a coffee lover! Comes in such great colors. Love the style! Don’t mind having it out on the counter!

+Just ordered this funky little crochet dress. It’s such a stretch for me but I kind of dig it?!

+Can you EVEN with this fabulous bag from Mme Mink?!

+Very tempted by this dress for my girl, though she increasingly refuses to wear the dresses I buy for her! Such a fun and unexpected pattern.

+Gorgeous ombre “spritz” dress.

+Speaking of aperol spritzes, Lake’s new summer arrivals are so festive and citrusy. I love this shorts set and this pointelle capri set.

+$15 digger jammies for my fellow mamas with construction-obsessed children.

+For summer birthday parties.

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6 thoughts on “A Fruitless Reconnoiter.

  1. I’m the reader who left that comment (still reading!) and I’m touched to know that you still think of it. I was in labor with my daughter, Eliza, when we discovered she had no heartbeat and I thought it was the end of me. In the days/months/years that followed, I grappled with the grief and self-blame, and desperate question of why me, why my baby girl. I reached out to another writer and bereaved mother who was posting online at the time and she said “But isn’t the question also why not me?” Coming to terms with the idea of a world that does not reward merit very often in this lifetime felt like it went against everything I’d believed before Eliza’s death, when life and luck were on my side. But I think you’re so exactly right–whether fortune is good or bad, asking why is the wrong question. I think we can make our own meaning as we move forward (often with help required!), and if we can do it with love rather than bitterness, we’ve found our way. Thank you for coming back to this question. I reflect on it all the time as well.

    1. Brooke – This is so beautiful. Thank you so much for weighing in here, for your bravery and vulnerability. I love what you’ve said here: “I think we can make our own meaning as we move forward (often with help required!), and if we can do it with love rather than bitterness, we’ve found our way.” Wow. So inspiring to hear this from you.

      Thank you for chiming in, and for your longtime readership!


  2. I commend Michael Fox for trying to stop this horrible disease. When I watch him today (constantly moving and jerking) I tell myself what a strong individual he is for showing us a vibrant talented actor and now this is what his life has become. Bravery!
    Oh my goodness do I love that funky little crochet dress. It’s fun and yet very chic at the same time. Wear it and go boldly!

  3. I was very interested to read your thoughts on “Still.” A few years ago, friends of mine were in a play–Beckett’s “Endgame”–with two actors who have Parkinson’s. A documentary was made about the process (it’s called “Me to Play and it was released in 2021). It was heartwrenching to watch the documentary and see how ordinary people and their families deal with the disease. Michael J. Fox has certainly suffered and done great things to raise awareness and help make advances in treatment. But because he is the face of the disease for many, and because he is so privileged, it can be difficult to remember that the disease, and any degenerative disease, looks much different when you don’t have the resources that he does.

    My aunt has Parkinson’s, and her sister, my mother, had multiple sclerosis. My mother died of MS after a thirty-plus year battle. And we were lucky to have a lot of resources to take care of her. For the last few years of her life, she was able to mostly be at home, and when she was in the hospital, she had private rooms and incredible nurses. But I think–what if we’d had the resources Fox’s family had? Would she still be alive today?

    My mother also handled her disease with strength and grace. I never heard her complain. She often laughed about it. But I wonder how much of that grace–in general, not hers specifically–is due to having a support system, and having the resources required, for what should be treatment given to everyone.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jen.

    Sarah | Fewer & Better

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your family’s doubled experience with degenerative disease, Sarah. My heart truly goes out to you. These are such horrible and difficult diseases to live with, and I can’t imagine how challenging as a caregiver/support to someone enduring one of them. To your musing on access to medical care, I think that’s one reason I was drawn to Fox’s story, because here is someone who has used his resources to advance the medical field in this realm so that many people with PD, including those with fewer resources, can live more comfortably.

      Sending you love, Sarah!


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