Have you truly grown up?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 29, 2014

Where did you grow up? Wait. Stop. Not the city where you were raised, but where did you grow up? Where did you mature and feel the impact of the French statement whose author I failed to trace. “We all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize that we only have one.” I know it sounds confusing, but think about it.

Ready now? Where were you when you realized your life on earth really does end one day, leaving a “to be continued in eternity” screen for those left behind? Where were you when you had to make difficult but necessary decisions regarding the way you use the finite time you have remaining as you walk the earth breathing God’s free air? That moment is when I believe we grow up, although we don’t always realize it until later.

An artist needs to take a step back to view his painting, a chef has to wait a while until the ingredients she’s chopped, mixed and heated become dinner, and a carpenter must take the time to provide adequate support before installing a new microwave over a range (cue my brother Matt, “Let’s just say y’all won’t be heating anything up in that tonight.”)

Sometimes a little distance, a little time, a little step back is required to see what’s happened in life. I took that step back when I walked into Dr. Gurtler’s office last month. I paused, just for a second, as I surveyed the circle of lounge chairs supporting lives attached to tubes attached to bags of chemotherapy. My 21-year journey was summarized in a single thought: this is where I grew up. Or as the French would say, where I realized I only have one life.

A couple of decades ago, in Dr. Gurtler’s office, I realized life was going to end for me and my fellow lounge chair occupants, some sooner than others, and I had to decide what to do. Conversations varied in that chemo lounge. Conversations about nothing and everything with people I saw repeatedly and others who never returned.

There one day I fought tears, but in the end the tears won. My weekend plans had been brought to a halt by an unexpected round of chemotherapy. Tommy, God bless him where he is, quietly connected me to the drug and used his gentle wit to soothe my disappointment.

And it was also there, another day, when I got so tired of hearing about insurance and odds of our survival and whether or not to stop treatment that I brought an abrupt halt to the conversation by saying, “I realize I will die, but it won’t be for a long time, and it won’t be from cancer. I will die of old age.” And then I did what I had to do medically, made daily decisions to joyously embrace the moment and began and ended each day with a whole lot of thanks for the past and trust for the future. Yes, there in Dr. Gurtler’s office, I grew up.

Ronny may be reached at rmichel@rtconline.com.