What If You Were Told You Only had Six Months to Live?

I have a friend who is dying. He was preparing for surgery, but instead, found out that he has stage four malignant melanoma. BOOM! Out of nowhere–he had no clue. The cancer is inoperable and so he has only six months. Now, you’re probably picturing him being in despair, depressed, and down. Yes, he’s had his moments, as can be expected. Today he spoke at our Sunday gathering, and his response is a lesson for us all.

He considers himself blessed beyond means. He can’t comprehend how happy he is. The resulting silence in church said much about the reaction of the congregation. There were four points for us to reflect on, but the first one got me the most.

For, you see, he considers the six months a gift to be able to say goodbye. Wow.

He and his wife went on their long planned cruise anyway. He snorkled. He danced with his best friend of 40 years, his wife. He got to see his brother from Colorado. He is able enjoy life–still.

As I looked around from the balcony while he spoke, eyes were being wiped–even the big burly guys.

What suddenly would be important to you if you were told you had only six months? What suddenly would hold no importance?

We as educators have many blessings in front of us: the students. Is it more important to give of ourselves? Will students remember that act of kindness, or will they instead say, “Wow! I remember how fascinating adjectives were!” Will they remember those awesome lessons on how to better take a standardized test, or will they remember feeling a community in your classroom?

Are we living our lives for others, or ourselves? A teacher can answer that easily: for others.

Thanks, Dan. What a gift you’ve given me.

Things I Learned While Out for Surgery

I have a bad habit (well, OK, maybe more than one…) of not learning when to stop. Maybe it’s a guy thing, or maybe it’s the curse of perfectionism, or fear of failure. Whatever the reason, there comes a time when a big stick from Above has to whack you full force across the back of the head to get you to slow down and listen. Now that I’m home recovering from knee surgery (just finished McCullough’s book on the Panama Canal: did you know that the French started the canal and the United States finished it? I had NO clue!), I’ve learned quite a lot from having to relax:

1) Even though I have great technology at my hands, it still doesn’t replace having friends: Although this sounds syrupy, imagine what it’s like to be lying on the couch and your colleagues pull up in the driveway to bring you dinner. Imagine what it’s like to have a colleague carry your materials from a meeting while also lending you crutches.

2) Even though I can get stressed out by all that I have to do in my job, I still have phenomenal colleagues to lean on: Not once have I had to worry about my buildings not having coverage–they took turns taking care of my staffs!

3) Even though I can’t be everywhere and every moment, email can: I avoided my email for three days, and when I opened it, I had 88 messages waiting. How phenomenal to think just ten years ago email was in its infancy–how would I have kept on top of everything going at the office?

4) Even though I stay busy, my beautiful wife of 25 years still never ceases to make me happy
: What a patient, calm, and loving joy! While I was asleep in the hospital bed, she patiently kept vigil and never complained once. While I was adjusting to using a walker, she never laughed once. When I was wearing The Gown and struggling to hold the IV as I walked across the room, she never snickered once. Thankfully she didn’t see into the marriage future and see THAT–ugh!

5) Even though one thinks they can’t live without computer techology, they CAN take a break from it: I read a 600 page book in six days! My daughter in Lex., Ky, surprised me with a handwritten letter. We watched movies and didn’t rush off to finish paper work. I took naps in the afternoons and felt great. I listened to a Beethoven symphony and paid attention to how it was written. I looked at the clouds. And, even though I wasn’t “busy,” I felt GREAT.

6) Even though I still ache from surgery, I remembered to tell my surgeon today that I appreciated him taking good care of me: His smile was all I needed to know that he doesn’t hear this often. Who else, I wonder, never hears a thank you?

Yes, thank goodness for pain. It has made me remember what’s important.

We Should All Play Checkers On the Sidewalk

We found him!

My sister (from Ohio) called and said that she decided enough was enough. If nobody else was going to do it, she was. Somebody had to start. And, as my mother always said, you never know if you don’t ask. The worst that could happen was either a “no,” or the sound in her ears of a phone being hung up. The task? Was our cousin still in Columbus? The only way was to look in the phone book and see if that name was his. And, the last 40 some years of no communication was now over–it was our long lost family member. They are planning to get together, share old family pictures, and catch up on news from the last four decades. What if my sister had said, “I’m just too busy?”

What’s the purpose of being so busy? Is it for survival, or getting ahead? Is it to put food on the table, or have a new car every three years?

I’m reminded of my work in China in a small rural farming town. Survival is the main economic need in this town. Work would begin at sunup and continue to dark. For example, on my way to school in the early morning, I’d walk past an old two story building. One particular day I stopped and witnessed scores of gentlemen with sledgehammers on the second floor beating the walls to bits. “Odd,” I thought, “is this anger management?”

On the way home for lunch that day, I noticed the walls were slowly disappearing. The heat was oppressive and the humidity was extreme, and the workmen kept pounding away. In about a week, the two story building was completely gone: blow-by-blow, the work never ceased until the task was done. What once was a building was now dust.

The whole town worked liked this. However, in the evenings, the community gathered on the sidewalk to play chess, socialize, and visit. The laughter, joy, and atmosphere was infectious. Even though I couldn’t understand the Mandarin, I realized these townspeople had a gift: they made time for each other in spite of the work to be done. The biggest thing I noticed? The happiness! As back breaking as the work was, these people were so peaceful!

Do we need to take time to play chess on our sidewalks? Do you remember Hurricane Isabel and the fun of meeting neigbors as we shared food at neighborhood cook outs?

Maybe the stress of testing, grading papers, pacing with the curriculum guide would be easier to tackle if we made time to play and relax. Who cares if we don’t have the newest car? Who cares if we have to duct tape a cabinet?

I don’t know about you, but I’m now going to quit blogging, not worry about VSTE, and go sit with my family.