“Bobby (what anyone who knew me before I was about 13 calls me), it all started with an earache. The doctor gave me some ear drops. The pain didn’t stop and seemed to get worse, so he gave me stronger drops. That still didn’t work. He ran some tests and told me it’s cancer, and I’m gonna die. It was an earache, and then I was dying. He says that I will probably just die in my sleep, so each time I wake up, it’s a surprise.”
In Pete’s case, it took about four months for the cancer specialists to identify the type of cancer that is killing him. He told me the name, and said it is very rare, untreatable, and fast moving. I made a mental note to look up the cancer and learn more about it. As I type this post, I have forgotten its name.
The fact that each of us will die is no surprise. The timing is the surprising part. That, and the name of the thing that ultimately causes our death. There’s always a name.
I remember a conversation I had with Grandpa Clyde (my wife’s grandfather) at least ten years ago. He was in his late-80’s at the time, showing me how to cook ribs properly on a barbeque. I asked him what it was like to have lived as long as he had. I will never forget his response. “If you live long enough, you say goodbye to a lot of friends and family. Most of the people I grew up with are dead and gone. I stopped going to funerals a long time ago. I spend my time making new friends, and enjoying this time I’ve been given with my family.”
Growing up, Pete was one of my role models for a life worth living. A firefighter, motorcycle tuner, racer, helmet painter, wheelie king, runner, water skier, speeding ticket magnet, traveler, and a Bluegrass fan. Although I never actually saw it, he used to say that he also jumped rope, attended three world fairs, and a few other things that are probably better left unmentioned. Pete never stopped making new friends, or appreciating his old friends. He grabbed all that life has to offer, and then some.
Pete wears a patch over his right eye now. The tumor has grown and prevents that eye from blinking. He is in a lot of pain, and the pain medications cloud the passage of time. This hasn’t stopped Pete from grabbing what life has left for him. He is living each remaining day as a surprise.
In truth, each day is a surprise for all of us. An opportunity to appreciate our family and friends. An opportunity to make new friends, and enjoy what little time we’ve been given.