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How "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" taught me to live with my MS

By Dan Digmann

Another Halloween has come and gone, and the spirit of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has energized me for my 22nd year with multiple sclerosis.

There was a ton of buzz surrounding Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts classic this year after it didn't air on network TV for the first time since 1966 (Apple TV+ in mid-October had acquired the rights to air all Peanuts holiday specials). People who oppose such a move to a streaming platform fear that it will deny today’s children the rich traditions surrounding the seasonal festivities of beloved characters such as Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Peppermint Patty, Pigpen, Schroeder, Snoopy, and Woodstock. 

I understand exactly what the opponents are saying because when The Great Pumpkin aired on network TV in October 2000 (eight months after I was diagnosed with MS), it was exactly what I needed to solidify my approach to how I live with this disease.

Nobody can put a limit on the time it takes or how long a person is permitted to come to terms with a MS diagnosis. I still have my moments more than two decades after my neurologist first used those two words and my name in the same sentence. It was on Valentine’s Day (how lovely), and I felt I was doing a good job moving forward with my faith, family, and friends.

I had toughed it through the second half of winter, all of the spring and summer, and was making it through my first autumn (yes, I intentionally didn’t use the word “fall”) as a person who has MS. Doctors, neurologists, DMTs, insurance, more tests and more unanswered questions filled my days as I continued to work fulltime.

I needed a break.

A wave of much-needed familiarity and nostalgia consumed me as the promo for It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown cut through the commercials. I inaudibly shouted to myself, “Yes! Yes! That’s what I need!” Something to take me back to a simpler time. A time when all seemed right with the world, and MS was nothing more than two letters in the alphabet rather than an acronym that was attached to my medical records and infused into my life.

I even popped some popcorn to have at my side as I sat down for a story from a simpler time. When Lucy tricked Charlie Brown and pulled the football away. Linus leaped into the pile of leaves with a wet sucker. The Peanuts gang went trick-or-treating and all Charlie Brown got was a bunch of rocks. Linus sat with Sally in the cold waiting for the ever-elusive Great Pumpkin to rise out of the pumpkin patch and fly through the air with a bag of toys for all the children.

A fistful of popcorn hovered close to my mouth as I paused and listened to Sally scream at Linus when she realized they missed out on all the Halloween fun.

“I spent the whole night waiting for the Great Pumpkin, when I could've been out for tricks-or-treats! Halloween is over and I missed it!” she shouted. “I could've had candy, apples, and gum! And cookies and money and all sorts of things! But no! I had to listen to you. …”

I sat dumbfounded. These simpler times instantly helped to simplify my MS complexities. 

That night I saw the Great Pumpkin as being the cure for MS. Was I going to be Linus and just sit around in the pumpkin patch waiting for the cure to magically appear? Or, was I going to be like the rest of the Peanuts and go out trick-or-treating and take in all that is good and sweet in this world? 

I shoved the handful of popcorn into my mouth and vowed to never be a Linus in my life with MS. 

In the years that have followed this breakthrough viewing, I have watched the Halloween classic with a sense of respect for the big lesson it taught me. And it has continued to hand out more treats and lessons to help me move forward with my life with MS.

Like with Charlie Brown just getting a bunch of rocks while his friends got a bunch of candy. Yes, life with MS can be as hard as the stones he received, but I take inspiration from the sheer fact that at least Charlie Brown continued to show up at each house with his friends. Always taking the chance that a piece of chocolate will find its way into his bag. Because he showed up. And I pray I always will continue to show up rather than sitting back out of fear that my MS will get worse. 

Also, is that necessarily a bad thing if all he got was a bunch of rocks? I mean, people pay a bunch of money for rocks to landscape their yards or make a hobby out of collecting them, right? Perspective is everything.

And unlike the fictitious Great Pumpkin, do I think researchers will one day find a cure for MS? I fully believe that yes. Yes, they will. 

But will I put my life on hold waiting for that to happen? Good grief. Never.