Entering a hospice a week before Christmas was never in my friend’s plans.
Cancer may come for his life, but it’ll never take his spirit.
“You know,” he said, his voice scratching like a coarse piece of sandpaper, “if someone told me I could trade some of the crazy things we did for an extra five years, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
I first met my friend walking out from beneath a tray of cookies his mother had baked for my family. A green-and-yellow moving van parked in the driveway, my family’s belongings packed inside, our new life on the outside. New town, new neighbors and new adventure.
In a week or so, I’d begin the first grade but, more importantly, I started a friendship that would span more than a half-century.
My hand rests in his, his fingers drawing toward mine. The room is quiet.
We shared our first beers. Today, ice chips are on the menu. White plastic spoon, small Styrofoam cup and tiny ice nuggets like the BBs we sprayed into tree branches hoping to bring home a squirrel.
I don’t remember if we ever succeeded. Still, I remember tramping in the woods like explorers, imagining we were hundreds of miles from home, acting like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches didn’t wait for us a few hills back.
No one thinks they might have once met my friend — you either did or you did not. His energy, tender soul and ability to make everyone who meets him feel like a spine-tingling cosmic connection occurred. Kindness, embracing demeanor and intense thirst about the world around him are his hallmarks. And the more he learns, the more he appreciates this crazy journey we call life.
We jumped into swollen creeks during flash foods, not knowing where we might end up. We jumped off roofs to see if we could fly and cried to each other after breakups with girls.
A nurse comes, reaching down to a small hose running from his torso. She begins pouring a clear fluid when the twinkle in his eye stops her.
“That the good stuff?” he said.
“Sure is,” she said. “Might even be tequila today.”
And there it is, the soft laugh, the sparkle, and nurse willingly joins the club of thousands before her.
He asks about our kids, both of whom know him as their uncle. Both adults now, they recognize they are fortunate to have someone like my friend in their lives. Each learned first hand that blood does not define family, but rather it is love cementing lives together.
Fifty years is a lot of territory to cover in a few hundred words. Impossible to justly do for someone you once sliced pinky fingers with a pocket knife, swearing to be blood brothers for life.
Today, those same two hands are resting on the hospital-style bed, one cradling the other. We’ve loved each other for a lifetime — and then some. And cancer will never take that away from us.