I have a passion for art so every Sunday I look forward to reading Eric Rhoads’s blog, Sunday Coffee. Eric is a painter, who was once in radio and now owns the publishing company that markets Fine Art Connoisseur and PleinAir Magazines.
Recently Eric wrote about his trip to Portland to see Sean, a friend who had suffered a stroke. As he prepares for his trip, he moves through all of the questions we all ask ourselves when we know we are going to face a person who has little time to live.
Here are the highlights of Eric’s post, When Moments Matter.
This soft Sunday morning on the back porch sees a deep and thick fog covering intense backlight from the rising sun, creating a tunnel like those in a movie scene where they “walk into the light.” Color is absent; the yard is reduced to shades of gray. Distant gnarled and twisted oak branches are silhouetted and are lighter in the distance, darker and bigger as they come close. This morning would be a good painter’s lesson on perspective, atmosphere, and values (the scale of light to dark).
The morning is nearly silent, sound dampened by dense fog. Birds gossip in stereo. The old swing hangs still and low to the ground, as if waiting for its next rider.
I’m wringing my hands from the chill, but my mug radiates heat to warm my fingers between keyboard strokes.
Like every Sunday morning, when I try to sit quietly and give honor to my past week, today I reflect on a difficult but important moment, something over which I scoured my brain for new lessons on life. As good as these lessons were, they were hard.
A Difficult Week
Last week I mentioned that I was heading to Portland to visit my friend who had had a stroke that left him unable to speak, unable to move anything but his eyes, and those only up and down.
Upon leaving I told my wife that I was dreading this trip because I knew it would be painful for my friend and for me, yet I was looking forward to being there for him, because that’s what friends do.
Stressed About What to Say
For the entire plane ride, I ruminated about different scenarios in my mind. What do I say? How do I say it? I can’t ask questions, I can only monologue. Do I give him encouragement? Is it false hope, or can he possibly recover?
Upon arrival I was greeted by one of my other close friends, Jackson, who drove down to Portland from Seattle to support me and to be there for our friend Sean. We discussed all the approaches we might take and finally decided none of that mattered, that the only thing that mattered was showing up, being there for a friend, and his knowing we loved him enough to make the trip. All we could do was let him know we supported him, we loved him, and we believed in his ability to fight the biggest fight of his life.
A Gold Nugget Moment
My time with Sean was brief, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, because he becomes exhausted easily, and because he had to be prepared for another surgery that afternoon. And though what I said would be too personal to share here, I feel that was among the most important 20 minutes of my life, and the two days of travel for 20 minutes with him and his wife was well worth the time and the money.
What Would You Do?
I learned a lot on this trip. A lot about my friend, a lot about strokes, a lot about his wife, a lot about what happens to people in this situation, and a lot about myself. This experience made me turn inward and ask myself what I might do if I were totally lucid but trapped inside a body that couldn’t move or communicate. Ultimately, no matter how hard I try, I can’t answer that question. Though I think I would have the will and the fight to continue, it’s really impossible to know.
A Flood of Appreciation
What I do know, however, is that I felt a flood of appreciation for each breath I take, for each step, for the warmth of the sun on my face as I was walking over to the hospital, and even appreciation for every ache and pain, every word I can utter, because I know my friend cannot experience any of that.
I also realized that life boils down to brief moments.
Celebration of Memories
I’ve had so many wonderful moments I can celebrate. The moment I realized I was in love with my wife. The moment we married. The moment our triplets were born. The moment we celebrated their first birthday. The moment we put them in preschool. And so many more.
Moments, I realized, don’t usually happen randomly. Though there are random and memorable moments, some of the best come from an orchestrated effort.
For instance, the effort to go visit my friend, which will remain among the most special moments of my life. The effort of my good buddy Jackson, who spent the two days with me catching up on our lives, our families. And laughing and joking like old friends do, which is something our friend, lying in a hospital bed, would encourage and appreciate.
What I Should Have Done
My regret, however, is not taking the time to create new special moments with my good friend, whom I had not seen in person for over three years and talked to only occasionally. In hindsight, I wish I had made the effort to get on a plane and spend a weekend with him while he was well and strong.
I’m also in a state of heightened awareness that one moment could bring you or me down. Therefore, the gift my friend unknowingly gave me is a harsh reminder that I cannot wait to get more important things done and make the most of life.
Embracing What We Have
I need to use the gift of time and health for the things that will hopefully change the worlds where my passions lie. (…) I don’t want to look back, trapped in a body unable to speak, or six feet under, knowing that important things that required my special skills did not get done.
In Search of Understanding
I sometimes wonder how people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk accomplish so many things and change the world so much. They have special gifts, incredible vision, and ideas beyond what others could even think of. They believed in their ideas and their passion and executed their visions and were driven to make the impossible happen. I wonder how they got so much done, and I’m going to start to study people like this to understand how I can do more.
I’m not here today to be morbid. I sit here on the porch in celebration that my own problems are small, that my own aches don’t matter, that I’m still blessed to breathe, move, and live. I’m grateful for that gift, and not one moment can be wasted.
Each of us, including you, possesses a special gift.
The key is action. One can’t sit around and wait for answers, because they don’t come from waiting, they come from action — any action that then leads you to something you never knew you would discover.
Link to Eric’s blog post: