The other night in New York I hailed a cab at about
ten o’clock. I got in, said, “Grand Central, please,” and the cabbie asked me
how my night was. I said I was coming home from a party to celebrate the launch
of my wife’s latest book, and it had been a great evening. “They’re all staying
in the city,” I said, “but I have to get home.”
I don’t always talk to cabbies, but this guy was especially
nice. So I said, “When do you get off tonight?”
He said, “Well, I have kind of an interesting
schedule—I started about 6:00 and I get off about 3 AM. Then I go to the gym
for a couple hours.”
I thought he must be kidding. “To the gym for a couple hours—really?”
He said, “Do you want to know why I go to the gym?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Because a couple years ago I had a little heart
attack. And in the hospital room, when I saw my children sitting on my bed
around me, I knew I had to do something. I thought I was a man of steel. I
thought it couldn’t happen to me.” He must’ve been in his mid-forties. “So I go
to the gym for my kids. I take care of myself for my kids. You know?”
I said I knew, though I could hardly know. I had
never lain in a hospital bed, a young, virile man with a slightly broken heart,
and these beautiful children sitting like angels around his bed.
As I paid my fare, I said, “Thanks for a great ride
tonight—and have fun at the gym.”
Sitting on the train, waiting underneath the streets
of Manhattan for my next ride to leave, I thought of a letter that Abraham
Maslow once wrote to Rollo May—May writes about it in his book The Cry for Myth. Maslow was a brilliant
psychologist who gave us such concepts as peak
experience and hierarchy of needs. He lived right along the banks of the Charles River,
and he loved it—called it ‘my river.’ One day Maslow had a coronary, just like
my friend the cab driver¸ and soon after the incident he wrote a letter to May.
He said, “My river . . . was never so beautiful as after my heart attack.”
I sat on that train and thought, why does it take a
brush with death to make us see our children, really see them? Make us see our
river, really see it in all its beauty? I had a moment of deep sadness that I
had not had a heart attack. You know what I mean? To envy someone a “terrible”
experience? Because our regular, normal, crisis-free lives are so blind.
For us “lucky” people, the challenge of each day of
living is to see with terrible eyes, to make each look our “last” and so to see
as if for the first time.
Blake Robinson says
Bravo, David. well put, as always.
You, the photographer, must know this in a special way–that if you only ‘take a picture’ of a thing you have not really opened it up. Somehow you have to see it from some angle that breaks open the thing itself so that the insides also show and it means something.
Several years ago when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was so sad and worried. It was a large tumor and I felt scared and helpless, and the prognosis was unknown in the early days. During the weeks of specialist visits, surgery to remove the tumor, and chemotherapy, so potent that it had to be administered in the hospital during a three day stay, I experienced a real sense of clarity. Everything important suddenly stood out so clearly and everything else immediately didn’t matter. I was able to see the wasted energy that I often put into things, like whether the dinner for company was going to be perfect, or how my hair and makeup looked when I went out. I didn’t care to participate in the latest gossip while sitting in the stands with the other soccer moms, and I appreciated all that was good in my life, and all the blessings I had been given. My dad beat his cancer and it has been several years now, and he is considered cured. I started telling him I loved him regularly since that time, something I thought was understood before. But the clarity I experienced and the real meaning of life that became obvious to me then, has slowly left me, as my world and that of my Dad’s returned to normal. I get caught up in the petty things quite often, stress about things that are truly unimportant, and probably take for granted all that I have, a little too often. I don’t wish for that time again, but I do wish I could have that feeling of truly knowing what matters, and what is important, everyday in my life.
Ginny Lovas says
Absolutely, Food for Thought – and I have been doing a lot of that lately – in a good way.
clark s johnson says
David, More food for thought. Am going to send you a little oiece i penned a bit ago There is so much to see and be grateful for clark
Look forward to that piece!
Joan Collins says
Thank you David. ….”to see with blind eyes…” seems to fit with today’s Discovery Hour, St. Luke’s Life Works, about the numbers of homeless in Fairfield County.
Betty Stagg says
Thank you for writing – and seeing – and reminding us to see every day. Still read Breakfast Epiphanies with joy. So glad you took that long ago Sabbatical.
Yes, and I have YOU to thank for that sabbath!
Margaret Anderson says
Thanks for making us more aware of the moments when God’s present with His love and we know it and are so very grateful to see it and be part of it.
Very thought provoking. There is a man from my church in just the same situation, although right now his prognosis is not good. I’ve been thinking about it so much, how devastating it must be for his family–teenagers and wife–to have him in the prime of his life possibly about to die. It is sad that it takes these things to make us fully appreciate the blessings we have.
My beloved and very near perfect, loving, doting father overcame prostate cancer relatively unscathed (he is sans prostate now though) and we were all so grateful to have had ‘our’ brush with what seemed to be taking down so many of our loved ones. He’s now going through eye cancer in a much more intense way. Prognosis is great, but he’s losing some vision and has to maintain a strict diet. I consider us SO, SO lucky to be among the few that get all the benefits of having this kind of diagnosis (life’s too short world view) and not much downside. As a family we always lived as if today could be our last, but this really turned it up a few notches. One of the greatest honours I believe we can pay another person is to share in their lessons and joys. Thanks so much for this, what an inspiring story and reminder~
sally johnson says
Thank you for this reminder, David. May we all have “terrible” eyes.
Thank you for your lovely perception of life.
Many years ago I lost my Mother and Sister in the Jonestown tragedy, November 18, 1978. The pain, sadness, grief, shame and loathing was so huge. My soul was damaged for many years, however through therapy, support groups and Gods grace, my life is so much more than this event, yet this tradegy has allowed me to feel life on a large scale. I see my life in many different shades.
This November 18th, I’m traveling with my Father (82) to Florida to begin retirement. I’m so grateful I have my Dad, we have a grand relationship. He said we are going to have a blast going across country together. November 18th is my date to evaluate my spiritual life. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to get our attention, maybe not. But for me this experience has enriched my soul.
Once again, thank you.
I’m in awe of your story, Jeannette. What you and your father lost–and the image of you two together on that cross country trip, that’s redemptive, big time.