Spoken one way, it ends conversation and doubles the distance between me and, my friend, my tennis mentor, who now in his early eighties is dealing with a medical crisis. Spoken that way, it is nothing more than a social convention. He knows I really can’t help him, and he knows I don’t have the time.
Spoken the other way, from the heart of what matters, it means, I am ready to go the extra mile with you, and be quiet and listen and be there helping you with necessary tasks like taking you, my friend, to the local hospital for treatment. And when I get there I will be present and not hiding by listening to the earphones I brought with me to kill the time while I waited for you to get through your daily regimen.
Years before, he had done his very best to overcome prostate cancer; now it was cancer of the tonsils which had spread to the lymph nodes on both sides of his neck. This time he had to prepare himself for a pitched battle involving radiation treatments, chemotherapy, difficulty swallowing, and a deep cough which robbed him of his life-strength.
As soon as I heard from him that the cancer had spread, I knew what I knew; this was a struggle which needed a truly compassionate friend. I took a risk and answered his call: he had a job for me to help him and his family. He heard me say with honesty and real emotion, “Is there anything I can do for you today?” He responded, “Now that you mention it, you could be a big help for me and my family. I need you to drive me to my hospital cancer center and stay there with me. Then you can take me home. That will free our daughter to take my wife to her neurosurgeon in Boston.” All because I took a chance and asked, is there anything I can do for you today?
And he said yes! Through our shared hours together, we bonded like never before. We both made it through that day and that in itself was reason to celebrate.
We celebrated our ever deepening friendship after he had worked through his daily grind of radiation, chemo, and IV infusion to keep him hydrated. We travelled up Route 28 out of Hyannis to the local DQ and two well deserved Chocolate malts. The malts cemented our zest for life and living our lives as gifts no matter what challenges we still had to overcome.
There is no doubt in my mind and heart that there will be many more times for me to be totally there for my friend. After all, I have so much to learn from him and he is a great teacher, and I do not mean tennis strategy 101. My friend is a teacher of living to the absolute fullest extent.
Peter Bach is a retired minister and active innkeeper at the Joy House Bed and Breakfast in Cape Cod. He is an avid tennis player, beagle lover and amazing support to his daughter, OncoLink team member Christina.