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Lunch With a Friend and a Life Lesson

Hooked-up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while today. And I’m very glad we had lunch together. You know, the lessons life unexpectedly throws our way can be absolutely amazing. She taught me one such lesson.

Suzanne and I were in the same cohort throughout grad school. I’ll never forget that very first class, as sixteen of us gathered for what would be the first of many experiences together over the next two years. As I looked around the room I noticed a woman with a very stylish “crew-cut.” And I entertained the thought that the look could be the result of a medical situation. As our first semester continued, Suzanne, indeed, confirmed it was.

Being in a graduate counseling program, every member of the cohort had their moment in the self-disclosure sun. Suzanne shared she’d recently had a benign tumor removed from her brain, followed by grueling physical therapy to get her walking again. And she endured a second procedure to insert a shunt in response to hydrocephalus. As she embarked upon her master’s work Suzanne had to confront some post-operative learning and memory issues that were a formidable barrier to her academic success. And with great resolve, she moved forward, graduating with the rest of us.

But her medical challenges continued. Suzanne was diagnosed with breast cancer, and though the cancer presented in only one breast, she elected to have a double mastectomy.

As we lunched, Suzanne provided an update on her medical situation; revealing some upsetting hearing loss, as well as vision issues. She also told me her memory and cognitive issues continued. Naturally, she wonders if her new symptoms suggest another brain tumor or, perhaps, a cancer relapse. But, in spite of it all, Suzanne’s outlook and spirit are remarkably positive and admirable.

Always in search of any insight I can muster regarding the true meaning of life, I asked Suzanne how she justified getting up every morning. She simply said it was all about the pleasure of knowing a new day had arrived and a true appreciation for life and the opportunity to serve others. And it was very clear her medical situation had great impact upon her feelings.

I shared with Suzanne the thoughts and feelings of a man I worked with several years ago. Marty presented for an assessment because he was experiencing a good deal of depression and wanted to understand its origin, as well as learn how to manage it. Well, in the midst of the assessment I stopped everything, looked at Marty and asked, “What is it that’s really gnawing at you?”

Marty survived a ruptured aortic aneurysm earlier in the year. Of course, he knew he really ought to be dead. And that was the problem. He wasn’t. And he couldn’t understand why he didn’t feel a deep sense of gratitude for his good fortune. Marty couldn’t experience what he expected to be a true sense of wonder and purpose upon awakening each and every morning; the very joy Suzanne experiences. And his dilemma was wearing him down.

So here are two people alike in their immediate life experience, yet vastly different in the take away. One finds a zest for life, and the other is frustrated he can’t. I believe this contrast is a call to action for each of us to deeply ponder what this thing called life truly means. What’s really the point beyond going through the motions? And I’m thinking a good place to start is to consider how we’d respond were we in Suzanne’s and Marty’s shoes. Hmmm.

Yes, I’m glad Suzanne and I hooked-up today…