Room 418

My friend Jim was suddenly admitted to the hospital last week to have an emergency operation on his lung to determine if a discovered tumour was malignant.

I met Jim in college. We shared residency together with three other guys in our first year and then became dual roommates for the rest of our school years. He was a groomsman in my wedding and I in his. We attended the same church, went camping, socialized at each other’s homes, ate, drank and laughed together. But as the years unfolded, careers dominated, kids’ needs dictated, paths detoured, and unfortunately our social gatherings and communication declined. We gradually lost touch with each other.

One day I left work to have lunch across the street at a restaurant in Maple Leaf Square callede11even. When I walked in the door to meet my guest, I noticed a fellow who looked very familiar. I shouted, “Jim!” He turned and said, “Merv, Merv Hillier?” After 25 years of separation it was as if we had only lost a week. We quickly reunited and at the end of some brief chatter agreed to have dinner with our wives to catch up on life.

After an evening of devouring some “surf and turf”, Linda and Jen settled in the living room with the comfy chairs while Jim and I stayed behind at the dining room table. It was interesting that typical guy topics such as sports, cars, work, travel and special events and people occupied less of the conversation than did a more important subject of “living”.

Jim told me his story. His good friend Greg had suddenly found himself sick, and after spending some time in Room 418 at Toronto General Hospital, he succumbed to lung cancer and died. This prompted Jim to have a medical. The outcome? A tumour was found on Jim’s lung. His doctor advised that surgery would be scheduled immediately. Only surgery could determine if the tumour was malignant or benign and depending on the result, corrective action would be taken. Jim was scared.

I visited Jim at Toronto General Hospital after his surgery. Jim, like his good friend Greg, was booked in Room 418. 
I watched a show on TV a few nights ago. An interesting phrase was used during a discussion. It was: “don’t run to your death”. The purpose of the phrase was to emphasize the need to slow down, take your time, understand and appreciate your surroundings, plan a path accordingly and then continue with your journey.

While Jim and I had lost touch with each other for many years, it appeared that our lives had followed similar paths. But what we had most in common was an understanding that despite all the time we had spent building careers, growing businesses, filling bank accounts, and expanding bellies with beer, nothing now mattered more than our relationships:  friends, family and fellows. Neither of us was interested in this race called run to your death.

Katy Perry made famous a song “Who am I living for?” Part of it says:

I am ready for the road less travelled
Suiting up for my crowning battle
This test is my own cross to bear
But I will get there

At the end, at the end 

Who am I living for?
At the end, at the end
Who am I living for?

When I reflected on some of the roads I have travelled, roads that had many twists and turns, hills, pot holes, detours, dead ends, I was quick at times to ask “why”. Why me? When Jim, marred with his fears, shared his story, it was then I found the answer to “why me”. I was able to quickly relate to Jim by telling my own story, a story with an outcome that provided much needed encouragement, relieved some fear, and restored hope. If I hadn’t had my own story to share, Jim may have had less strength to face Room 418. 

So who am I living for? I am living for that person who may have to face an uncertain future, whose only hope is found in the story I might have to share. I am living for that person who might find him/herself in Room 418. I am living so that others may also live.

When I find myself in a situation that may cause me to ask again “why me”, my attitude should be “why not me”? When this experience is lived, when it is finished, I will have the opportunity to grow in character and wisdom, and will have developed a proper understanding of life that will allow me to lift up someone I may not know or someone I have lost touch with for years. How exciting!

Sometimes when we are on the mountain top we cannot see, or empathize with those in the valley because we are too preoccupied with our own success. Likewise, when we are in the valley, we are so busy trying to find an answer to “why me?” we cannot celebrate another’s life who might be for the moment on the mountain top. In both scenarios, I must ask myself, “what am I living for?”

I am living to celebrate life in the valley and on the mountain; because as we walk this life together, it matters not what circumstance I am or we are in. What matters is we are there for each other.

So….what I am living for? I am living now to celebrate life with Jim whose tumor was benign! Good bye Room 418.