A Lesson On How To Live: My Nephew As Teacher

Photo by Matthew Henry

I recently had a disagreement with a friend.

Then my thirty-one-year-old nephew, one of the finest of fine young men, was diagnosed with leukemia.

The disagreement is no longer important. Which always should have been the case, except pride probably got in the way.

What’s happened to Christopher — most of all a terrifying, life-shifting experience for him, his wife, parents (my sister- and brother-in-law) and brother — has been what we refer to as a “wake-up call.”

We think we have all the time in the world to do things, until we realize that we don’t, or it at least feels like the time to do them is threatened. Because what Christopher’s going through could be my story, or yours, at any time.

I’m not suggesting that we live in fear of this possibility … but to remember that it is possible … and that we have to live! Live today. Not tomorrow when your head doesn’t ache. Not next week when the rainy weather pattern moves through. And not next month when “the moon is in the seventh house.” My nephew had plans for the next day, next week, and next month too. But ever since the doctor called with his test results, all of his plans have had to take a back seat to his treatment.

Now, I believe with all my heart that Christopher will recover. He’s young, and strong, and his form of leukemia is treatable. The odds are greatly in his favor. He will get over this hurdle, and he has lots of people to support him along the way. But my guess is that, since his diagnosis, each day for this already sensitive and caring young man feels more precious; each hug he gives to his wife and baby daughter is tighter and longer. And, although Christopher has never been one to stay idle, maybe some thought has been given to time that won’t be wasted during his post-leukemia life, when normalcy will seem so perfect.

When I think about the time and energy I put into keeping that disagreement with my friend simmering, I feel foolish. It was time … it was life … wasted. It was time and energy I should have put into loving and creating. But, as I’ve said, the disagreement is no longer important. There’s now a healing going on, which is pleasing to both my friend and me, because, you see, it’s not in the nature of either one of us to be petty or angry.

Amazing, isn’t it, how wise … how loving and forgiving … we become when our mortality takes advantage of a chance to stare us down. That my own heart should have moved me to reconcile with my friend before now is a point not lost on me.

Still, that shouldn’t stop me from staring back at my mortality, right now, and saying, “Okay, I get the point.”

It also shouldn’t prevent me from answering that wake-up call — today — with action and a point of my own:

There’s no worthier goal than to use the difficulties and pain inflicted by life to spur us on to do good things and make life better for others.

There’s a reason I write, specifically, for a publication called “Transform the Pain” (with thanks to Mateja Klaric for publishing me). It’s because I so believe in the power of those three words — transform the pain.

What a wondrous embodiment of grace is the pain that’s transformed into an act of love.

Having been reminded of just how precious life is by my nephew’s current challenge, these are the acts of love I pledge myself to in 2017:

  • To rekindle friendships, and not let them slip away.
  • To work diligently on the memoir I’m writing about healing from PTSD, which I hope will help others who are climbing that same mountain.
  • To pick up the phone and call relatives and friends. I’ve succumbed to texting as much as the next person.
  • To continue contributing pieces to “Transform the Pain” and other Medium publications which advance the notion of using our pain for love’s gain.
  • To resurrect The Love Note Project, a self-created, “write to one person every day for a year” project which I completed on May 7, 2015. And that’s “write” as in hand-write; email doesn’t fly in The Love Note Project. This time around I may not get it done every day, but I’ll come pretty darn close.

This is an organic list, one which will grow as I move through the year. I’d like to challenge each of you to make a list of your own. In what ways can you transform your pain into an act of love?

I end this post with a message to my nephew:

Dear Christopher — I’d rather be unschooled in the vagaries of life than to learn a life lesson from what you’re going through. But what a wasted opportunity it would be to not let this experience teach us … remind us … that life is precious, and that love is all that really matters.
I love you, Christopher. This one’s for you!

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