I debated writing this post.
These are probably the most personal words I have ever written, yet I feel guilty about writing them.
My friend is dying of cancer. She has been given only hours to live.
Despite the tears making wet trails down my cheeks, I feel guilty about the enormity of my grief. Her husband, children, parents and even other friends are losing someone who occupied a much bigger space in their lives.
I feel guilty because they value their privacy and my friend’s privacy, and I don’t want to violate that.
And yet, as always, I feel the incredible need to write something about the situation. I feel as though putting my thoughts into a concrete form will somehow make sense of an incredibly unfair situation.
If my friend, the lawyer by education and the social worker by heart, could read these words, I know exactly what she’d say.
She’d tilt her head ever so slightly, give me a sidelong glance and say “curious.”
My friend never understood why I wrote.
I remember one particular conversation that occurred while we sat drinking margaritas as we looked out over Pamlico Sound in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
“You write for pleasure?” she asked in her trademark flat yet completely expressive voice.
We were discussing a possible career change for me, and she was trying to make sense of what she considered a completely ridiculous notion that being creative could actually be a profession.
“But who would read what you wrote?” she asked.
“You already do,” I replied.
“Yeah, but I don’t pay for it,” she said.
That ended the conversation but not our friendship.
Now, on an extremely cold February night, I’m grieving the loss of that friendship while simultaneously trying to remember how it even began.
I remember how we met, but I can’t remember how we grew from being acquaintances to being friends. I can’t remember when she became THE person I texted when I was most pissed off because I knew she would respond with some sardonic comment that would make me feel better.
Just today, despite a final visit to her hospital room yesterday, I found myself picking up my phone to tell her about a completely ridiculous situation.
That was the bittersweet moment when I realized that her diagnosis of cancer had gifted me with a reminder about the value of time, of enjoying completely inane moments and of appreciating the sometimes random events of life that bring people together.
Cancer completely sucks, but it also has the amazing ability to remind us of how beautiful life can be.
As my friend would say, “curious.”
I’ll miss hearing her say those words, but I’ll never forget how they always made me smile.
This final goodbye would be much more difficult if she hadn’t given me so many of those smiles.
Thank you my friend.
Thank you so very, very much.
The essence of our conversation was that we categorize the most memorable events of our lives by the year they occurred. Because of that, we automatically label certain years as good or bad.
Based on that, the year 2013 has been a bad year. People I care about are hurting.
Some are dealing with addiction in their family.
Some are dealing with divorce.
Some are dealing with employment issues.
And some are dealing with a diagnosis of cancer. Again.
Even worse, all of these individuals have incredible compassion for others. They are selfless and generous and, most importantly, they are positive. They talk about moving on and about miracles.
Most of all, they don’t define life through their own experiences but rather through the experiences of those they’ve touched.
Some day when I’m more removed from immediate crises, I will reflect back on the year 2013. Even though I’ve experienced more sorrow than celebration, I don’t know that I could ever categorize this as a bad year.
I will simply categorize it as a year that my friends became my heroes.
And that will always make me smile.
Day 90: Heroes Day 89: The Cricket in Times Square Day 88: The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human Day 84: Captain Underpants Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day 77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green Lights Day 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory Day 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of Hay Day 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember Day 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessons Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
I gladly accepted his gesture and handed him a folding table.
As we walked, I asked about his shirt, and he broke into a broad grin as he talked about the team enthusiastically. He told me that his son had recently played in a Nationals benefit against cancer.
We continued the small talk until we arrived at my church’s Relay for Life campsite in the middle of the high school football field. As the man put down the table, I thanked him profusely for helping. He merely shrugged and said, “Isn’t that what we’re all here for? To help each other out?”
I nodded in agreement then said goodbye as I turned to help the rest of my team set up for a day in the hot sun. But the man’s words stayed in my head.
About an hour later, the event had begun, and cancer survivors were making the first lap around the high school track while the rest of us clapped and cheered. Since several friends and acquaintances were walking, I don’t know why I was so surprised to see a relative stranger, the man in the Nationals shirt, walking among them.
I’ll probably never know his name, but I want to thank him for his reminder yesterday.
I’ve been stressed out for several weeks now about things over which I have no control and things which involve other people over which I have no control. And amid all that stress, I lost some perspective.
There were multiple incidents at yesterday’s Relay for Life that helped me put my life back into focus, but his words were the ones that made everything crystal clear.
Life isn’t about waiting for those few moments when everything falls into place and goes smoothly. If it were, we’d never be happy or grateful.
Life is about appreciating rich experiences made possible by people who are willing to share their limited hours with us. It’s about appreciating everyone who makes us smile and laugh, who lends us a helping hand and who trusts we will do the same for them.
I was surrounded by such people yesterday.
Relay for Life is intended to be a fundraiser for cancer research, and that’s what many people consider it. But to me, it’s not really about the money at all.
It’s about seeing diverse people join together for a common cause rather than tear each other up over political or other differences. It’s about spending hours on a track talking with friends and, even more importantly, talking with my daughter when there is absolutely no “to do” list to distract us. And it’s about remembering all those we’ve lost to cancer and honoring all those who have battled and survived it.
Most of all, it’s about life – embracing it, enjoying it and remembering what it’s all about. And that, as the man in the Nationals shirt reminded me, is simply about helping each other.