Note: This is written by Mike Fishbein, a longtime friend of David. Mike and his wife, JoAnn, have been an integral part of the Swim as Board Members since the inception. These thoughts reflect Mike’s personal relationship with and about David.
David, I can still remember vividly when, three years into your diagnosis of ALS, you told me “I am very happy.” By then, you were already having trouble speaking. Pre-ALS, you were an active guy—even swimming the 5-mile crossing between Falmouth and Martha’s Vineyard. You had a thriving dental practice and were engaged in several community organizations spanning the gamut of religion, education, and health care. But three years of ALS had taken its toll. At that point, you were relying much more on a wheelchair. You were having trouble swallowing and writing. Your muscles were vanishing. “The past three years have been fabulous,” you said. After a long pause, you added, “but I won’t go on a ventilator. I am not someone who can live only inside my head.”
Despite that initial reluctance, you have been ventilator dependent now for over ten years. You chose life. And you by no means live only “inside your head” but, rather, very much outside in the world. Somehow, and amazingly, you learned how to do that. This April, you took your caregivers, family, and friends to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, an event which you have been celebrating since its inception more than 50 years ago. Except for a few interruptions due to Covid, weddings, and so forth, you have managed to be there every year, despite the challenges of traveling on a plane with a ventilator. Thanks to your friend Nubbin, who has been able to secure a private box at Fenway Park, you have enjoyed live concerts by Paul McCartney and Billy Joel, surrounded by close friends and family. On Thursdays, you accompany friends on weekly outings to your favorite local restaurant, the Chart Room. You are able to spend quality time with the newest members of your extended family, Manny and Cedric; husbands to daughters Sho and Ari. Then of course, there is the ultimate blessing—welcoming your new grandson Ezra into the Garber clan. And that is in your free time—between researching breakthroughs in ALS, writing e-mails to friends all over the globe, and keeping up with the world and local news. Now that summer is upon us and life is again opening up, you are ready to jump back in. As I write this, you are busy planning this summers’ 12th annual David’s Old Silver Swim.
For more than a decade, JoAnn and I have set aside Wednesday evenings as “David night”. We admire your fierce determination to talk to us through your magical Tobii communication device. As your retina patiently scans the keyboard, letter by letter, you let your ideas and feelings be known. “David night” has become our favorite. We refer to it as Wednesday Sabbath. A time to enter a new space – slower,quieter,contemplative – and still great fun.
Through these visits, I think I have come to understand what you meant when you said you were, and remain, happy. ALS compressed time. It took you out of the future and planted you firmly in the moment. And you quickly resolved to make each moment count from the start. You took a 6-month road trip across America to all those places you had dreamed of visiting. You spent more than a year in Israel seeking treatment while exploring all of its spiritual and physical wonders. You strengthened relationships with friends and family. ALS revealed what is really important in your life and gave you the resolve to invest in those things. What is most remarkable to me is how quickly you accepted your diagnosis and adapted to living with it. Even more incredible, you have never resented those who are living a “normal life.” In fact, you always want to hear about our trips, experiences, and joys. As you often remark, “it is my way of bringing the outside in.”
JoAnn and I very much look forward to this year’s 12th David’s Old Silver Swim. It is such a great reflection of you—an event which blends fun, humor, light heartedness, and competition—all in just the right proportions. And it is a great fundraiser for CCALS, an organization which has done so much to promote the wellbeing of patients and families negotiating the tough terrain of ALS.
Your motto has always been to “swing for the fences”, and that is exactly what you have done. Each year you have set a fund-raising goal which seems well beyond the fence and each year we manage to hit it. With the generous support of the community, let us count on doing so again.
In deepest friendship,