There are many things that can change your life. Often they are events or experiences. Sometimes it is people whose paths we cross. Occasionally it will be an object or thing. The intersection may be brief but leave a lasting impression. Or the impact could be deep and yet the effect relatively fleeting.
People will talk about books that changed their lives. Maybe a classic like On The Road that shaped a teenager's aspirations or a memoir that opened up a new world. It could be that BMW that you've always imagined yourself zipping around in; or that charming Victorian in the lovely neighborhood next door to where you grew up.
It might be the grandmother that relayed tales of courage and sacrifice during the war and never shows anything less than boundless respect for everyone she meets. Or the college professor that brought you a world of ideas that you'd never considered before but apply every day.
It could be the end of a loving relationship, the tragic loss of a child or quadruple bypass surgery. This weekend brings together two of the events in my life that have changed me forever.
Saturday the 31st was the first anniversary of my initial cancer diagnosis. It was mid-afternoon last Halloween after my first endoscopy when my serious Syrian GI specialist told me that based on her experience and what she had seen, that I likely had pancreatic cancer. It would be a few days before a biopsy confirmed her dire prognosis. To say that I was stunned is, of course, an understatement. Suddenly empty might describe it better. The saying goes that some things feel like "it was a lifetime ago". The start of this cancer journey for me, almost literally, is. Halloween 2008 is like that day between BC and AD in my personal life.
On Sunday, I ran my sixth NYC Marathon. I was on the verge of running it last year til I started turning orange and evil cancer stood firmly between me and the starting line. Thanks be to God, I was able to drag myself through the 26 miles this year in a respectable 4 hrs and 25 minutes. My slowest time yet – but then again I ain't getting any younger either.
I credit my first marathon experience and every one since with many lessons that prepared me for this cancer marathon. I entered my first one in 1997 just so that I could one day tell my grandkids that their grandpa once ran through his great hometown. I got much, much more than mere intergenerational bragging rights out of that run. Most importantly, I discovered that there is nothing that I cannot do if I put my all into it. Also, I learned to appreciate that not all suffering is automatically a bad thing to be avoided at any cost. Finally, I developed a sensitivity to the goings-on in my body that I still relish and has served me well throughout this illness.
As it turned out, several of my life changers have built upon each other. I've read the book, had the teachers and many friends, listened to grandmothers and watched loving relationships end. Each seems, in hindsight, to be a deliberate preparation for this ultimate life changer. I imagine and hope that it won't be my last.
Today was yet another significant day – my 43rd birthday. Now that I've run the race, I am just holding out til the grandkids arrive so that I can tell 'em the story.
PS – The thing about life changers is that they are not automatic. They can be brushed under the heavy carpet of our life's history. It may be easier not to alter our comfortable trajectory. But potential life changers ignored are like opportunities for growth left on the table - and that is nothing short of a terrible shame.