Senator’s return to work sparks memories of great uncle

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk returned to work today, an impressive act for a man who suffered a major stroke a year ago.

Kirk, 52, represents Illinois. I’m not exactly a fan of Kirk’s or politicians in general, but I’m interested in his recovery.

For a while, I was irked that Kirk could be absent from his job representing me and the other residents of Illinois while he underwent multiple surgeries and months of rehab, but as I reflected, I’m glad he can retake his place in the Senate. If he were a school custodian, I would want the district to offer him his job back, so why not a politician?

His condition reminds me of my great uncle Art, who suffered a stroke in the mid-60s before I was born. I remember nothing of a man who must have been strong and effective as a life-long farmer in north central Minnesota except his halting walk and garbled speech. He and his wife, Great Aunt Freda, were frequent guests around our holiday table because Art was my grandfather’s brother and Freda was my grandmother’s sister (yes, the pair of brothers married a pair of sisters).

Great Uncle Art used a four-pronged cane to get around, on which I read Mark Kirk also depends. To tackle the 40-some steps of the Capitol, as Mark Kirk did today, would have been impossible for Great Uncle Art, I believe.

Art farmed when he was struck down by his stroke. My dad tells me my uncle and grandfather took over Art’s cows and chores for a while until it became apparent Art would never be able to farm again.

Art lived for nearly 20 years after his stroke. He scared me as a child because I couldn’t understand a word he said; I’d like to think I as an adult would be more kind to him. Dad said Art was most articulate when he swore, which he didn’t do much before his stroke, probably because he was frustrated with his state. Nowadays, Kirk likely benefits from better stroke medications, better rehab and a senatorial staff of dozens.

In any case, Mark Kirk gets points for perseverance. Great Uncle Art was nothing if not indomitable to endure his weakened condition for nearly two decades.

Kirk’s return to Congress also is heartening for its symbolism. The Republican was greeted at the Capitol steps by Illinois’ Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Vice President Joe Biden (read the Chicago Tribune’s story here). If only Congress as a whole could share that perseverance and nonpartisan support.

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