It never ceases to amaze me how a seemingly innocuous meeting with a stranger can end up having a profound impact on our lives. I am fascinated by people’s stories, and I am equally fascinated by all of the ways that the stories of others find their way to me. This week, I was the grateful recipient of words of wisdom found in the waiting room of the radiation center where the storyteller and I are patients.
After exchanging pleasantries, my fellow patient and I found ourselves in a conversation that evolved into a meaningful exchange, at least for me. This conversation took place the day after she celebrated her 89th birthday, and my only regret is that we did not have more time to talk. I could have listened to her for hours upon hours, as I know that what she shared was only a sliver of what has been a full and rich life.
Her story began where all stories in medical waiting rooms begin, with her diagnosis, treatment history, and prognosis. She was diagnosed with lymphoma over a decade ago and has been in treatment on and off since then. After sharing her medical history, she graciously began talking about the other facets of her life, and without realizing it, she shared so many powerful stories and lessons. Here are some of them:
- I try to find the humor in difficult situations. As she uttered this sentence, she had a gleam in her eye and gave a little chuckle, and I got the sense that her proper and classy demeanor was a cover for a wicked sense of humor. As someone who also uses humor to cope with less than funny situations, I felt like I had found a kindred spirit in her. She reminded me to not take life and myself so seriously and to always look for something to smile about and laugh at, as laughter truly can be the best medicine.
- Age doesn’t define who I am and what I do. While she admitted that, at times, she becomes frustrated with not being able to do certain physical things that she once could do with ease, she emphasized that, “In my mind, I feel like I am twenty, and that’s how I live.” She looks at least two decades younger than her actual age, and after talking with her, I suspect that her outward appearance reflects her inner beauty and youthful spirit.
- My memories are what makes me happy now. This simple statement gave me pause, as I reflected on how often I easily become caught up in the minutia of daily life, instead of creating happy memories to enjoy in the present and in the future. I continue to look for ways to strike a better balance between work and play on a daily basis, and I hope to cultivate more happy and positive experiences and memories to last me a lifetime.
- He never got to enjoy his retirement. Sadly, her husband died not long after he retired, and she talked about how he worked hard his entire life and never got to reap the rewards of this delayed gratification. She encouraged me to plan ahead, but she added, “Don’t put off living.” I definitely am guilty of assuming I have unlimited time to do all of the things that I really want to do, but since talking with her, I have begun to rethink this habit and take actions to live more fully in the moment.
- I always felt like a teenager on a date. This is how she described feeling with her husband, even after over sixty years together, and despite of, or perhaps because of, their challenges, such as infertility in their youth and their respective cancer diagnoses in their later years. It was such a sweet sentiment, and it reminded me that true love does exist in a world that does not always value genuine relationships and commitment.
Our chat ended when it was time for me to have my radiation treatment, and I could not thank her enough for sharing some of the chapters of her story with me. Her story has impacted my own story in ways that neither one of us could have imagined, as we sat together as two strangers, merely talking to pass the time. It was time well spent, and I will not forget her and the lessons I learned from her.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story