It was Sunday evening and I pulled up his number from my Contacts and called. We had not talked for months, or even years. But the email I had received from his wife hung in my thoughts like a bad dream that I had to dispel. Apparently, my friend Art had been losing weight, was excessively tired and his skin had taken on a yellow tint. The doctor immediately sent him for blood tests and a CT scan. The verdict; Art’s pancreas and liver were filled with tumours. The unspoken but expected diagnosis; cancer, likely the aggressive kind.
Over the phone Art sounded like he always did. I have known him since we were boys, a few years apart in age, growing up in the small unincorporated district of Coldstream, British Columbia. Our lives had intersected numerous times since we had both left the rural life for a more fast-paced existence in the Vancouver area. We had lived together in a large residence for several years in the mid-seventies. He married a fellow alumnus of Trinity Western College (as it was then). We had shared a number of key life experiences like each of us going through the pain of a private adoption that fell through and having to return those babies after they had become a part of our respective families. In every circumstance of life Art had remained consistently positive, with an infectious laugh, a playful nature and a strong faith in God. These are all being tested.
As we talked we found that, although his potential cancer diagnosis and my now 10 year old Parkinson’s disease diagnosis are incredibly different, we shared much in common. Although we had been healthy and active before, we now both had to face the frustrations of being confronted with our mortality. Medications, doctor visits, treatment options, symptoms and side effects were now a part of living with our respective physical ailments. Uncertainty and its consumption of the future was a reality we both experienced daily.
But as I listened, I realized that we both spoke convincingly (perhaps to reassure ourselves, or those within earshot) of living out our lives as positively and purposefully as we could. We found that the Christian faith we shared gave us strength and assurance of meaning amid the sense of impending loss. We each had a hope not so much for a medical miracle (although that would be just fine) but for the ability to make the right choices in what we say to those we encounter such that our remaining days or years will communicate faith and love.
Art and I found ourselves agreeing on the phone that evening, making a sort of silent pact. We choose to enjoy the days ahead, not just endure them. We will not let the difficulties of the future crowd out the wonderful memories of the past. We will seek significance through and confidence in the challenges of the present rather than succumb to fear of what may come. Each day will be seen as a gift to be opened with a sense of wonder and expectation. We will live life as a series of opportunities for inspiration rather than just constant threats of expiration.
As I hung up the phone I felt warmed and encouraged by our time spent talking together. I realized again that it is in the crucible of life’s most threatening times that we can experience a peace that cannot be explained, the depth of being fully human and the richness of relationship. I am reminded that every day I need to ask myself, “Regardless of the circumstances, will you chose to enjoy life or just endure it?”