I’ve said before that I never got a big epiphany from my cancer, but I did pick one up from someone else’s emergency.
The moment didn’t look anything like this, I just like this photo.
One of the many people who’ve taught me Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a man named John Will, had a heart attack. John is quite simply one of the best teachers in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a complex technique or a life lesson, he can bring it across to a room full of beginners and experts alike. His particular gift seems to be imparting lessons that will hang around until the student is ready. More than once he taught me something in a seminar I thought I hadn’t understood, and yet once I’d progressed in BJJ enough, the technique slotted itself into my repertoire like I’d be taught the day before.
John is also the person I think best exemplifies the idea of living life fully. He does more with his days than any other five people I know, and he’s one of the fittest people I’ve ever met.
This is John. I always assumed when death showed up for him he’d break its legs.
He still had a heart attack.
Fortunately his wife made him go to the hospital and he’s well into recovery now. The lesson I got came when John mentioned that a lot of people had said that his heart attack was a reminder of how precious life was, to live life to the fullest. The thing is, John knew. He really, really already knew. As I said above no one I know lives their life more. John didn’t need the reminder that life is precious…
But I did.
Cancer should have been one heck of a reminder. I would have preferred a short note.
It doesn’t matter, I didn’t get it. Not really.
I was too caught up in the process of surgery/chemo/recovery to really notice that the lesson I’d been hanging around waiting for was right there. It took John’s medical emergency (and subsequent Facebook post advising the world he was OK) for me to pay attention. It’s a cliche, but life is precious. I just didn’t realize it. Not just as a whole, but in the specific too:
I didn’t realize what a blessing being able to eat more or less what I wanted was until I couldn’t for weeks on end.
I didn’t get how big a deal keeping myself fit was until I couldn’t walk to the end of my driveway.
I didn’t understand how loved I was by my friends and family until they all stepped up to the plate AT ONCE to help me. I sort of knew, but I didn’t understand it. I have an army of people right there, ready to fight for me, and the idea of that is so overwhelming I have no idea how to process it.
I didn’t realize how much time I was wasting until there was a chance I didn’t have any left.
That last one is the one I want to unpack. I want to make it clear that I don’t regret one second that I spent intentionally. If I lay down on the couch to watch something with my awesome wife and a bowl of popcorn, I don’t consider that time wasted, because that’s one of life’s great pleasures. Similarly I don’t consider any time spent writing to be wasted even if it’s writing I don’t end up using
The time wasted I’m talking about is the time I didn’t intend to waste. Time I spent aimless online, or channel surfing. The decade I spent miserable in jobs I could have quit. Time I knew was wasted and time I just let slip by. So often I was too caught up in doing what I was doing to notice the wider picture.
I spent a lot of time daydreaming. Not the good daydreaming that makes for new stories, the kind where I dream about winning the lottery. Or about having superpowers. Or about spending my time productively.
Maybe the most honest I’ve ever been with myself was at the beginning of last week where I admitted I’d given up on my dream of being a writer, at least as far as novels and scripts went. I was enjoying my job writing for radio, and the idea of pursuing being a novelist seemed too much. Because I was scared it wouldn’t work. Because the idea of going through so much for possibly no result was terrifying.
It wasn’t just that though. For a while there in my early twenties I trained hard at jiu jitsu, I even had an MMA fight and had always wanted to get back to competition of some kind. But I didn’t, and I was kidding myself that I ever would.
Because I was scared. I never really learned how to handle competition, and I hated to lose, especially in front of my friends. So I found reasons not to compete.
That pattern has been there for a long time and a part of it is the lie I always told myself: I’ll do it later.
You would think that getting cancer would have snapped me out of it, but it didn’t. As I said above I was too busy running through the process of getting well to really get any epiphanies, so instead I’m going to steal the one that John didn’t need. I needed a reminder that no matter where you are in life there might not be a later.
I wish I could make some grand announcement that from this moment forward I wouldn’t waste any more time, that I would achieve X, Y or Z. Life doesn’t work like that. I can’t make any promises to you or to anyone else. There are no promises to make, all I can say for sure is that it took me seeing someone else’s epiphany for me to get my own lesson.
As I’m finishing this off it occurs to me that maybe there’s another lesson there that I’m not ready for yet, and that will slot itself into my repertoire when I’m ready.
I hope so.