I had just turned around from the area in Best Buy where the big screen TV’s were – typically the back area near the restrooms, when I looked up and saw a familiar face.
Now have you ever innocently said something and had a response that practically knocked you off your feet? I mean it wobbles you so that the next statement is hard to find?
As I looked up and saw my old acquaintance and friend, Don Smith I was surprised. For some reason lately I seem to be running into folks who have a strong connection to my past. Friends, roommates from college and others seem to be appearing in my life and in each case there is a message that I’m receiving.
I startled Don, I think, just as much as he startled me. Of course, since he saw me last I’ve lost some hair and what I have is certainly more gray.
“Don, how are you doing?” Before he could reply I said you have a nice tan going on. His skin was deeply tanned and, for his age, somewhat aged – looking as if he’d been in the sun a bit too long.
“That’s no tan.” he replied and then his words stunned me!
“I have 40 days to live unless I get a liver transplant!”
I, who rarely am at a loss for words, was speechless. Here I was thinking I was paying him a compliment on his tan only to find out that his skin looked as it did because he was dying. Talking about being wobbled…I was wobbled and more.
I gathered from his next comments that he was growing accustomed to wobbling people like me who seem to be surfacing in his life – either to encourage and pray for him or tell him goodbye. His eyes seemed to be moist as he shared with me his story from where he has been to where he was. It seems that almost a decade ago this vibrant young man in his 30’s had his hips (both I think) replaced. Why? Honestly I don’t recall…but I do recall that this significant surgery was certainly unexpected for a man so young.
“Chuck…I destroyed my liver! It’s gone and if I don’t get a new one I’ll be gone in 40 days.”
Don went on to share with me that after surgery he was given pain medication to help take the edge off the pain he experienced as he attempted to recover from hip surgery. I can’t speak for Don…but I do understand that men (in general) are babys when it comes to pain (at least I am) and as Don continued his story he shared that for a long time he was dependent on prescription pain medication.
After some time, Don, at the insistence of his physicians, switched from the high powered prescription meds to Tylenol (extra strength I think he shared). Don said rather mater of factly, I’d take 10 or more a day to avoid feeling the pain and “Chuck I did that for years.”
Then he looked at me with his carolina blue eyes and said, “I didn’t know what I was doing and destroyed my liver in my attempts to feel no pain.”
We must have talked for a good 20 minutes standing there in Best Buy as if nothing in the world mattered other than our mutual conversation. He shared with me the humor that he was bringing to the end of the life he was facing knowing that he would either find new life with a new organ or find life beyond – outside of the body that was worn out.
We talked about his two children, both in college, and the financial position that all of this had put he and his family in. My heart ached. Behind the conversation today was a deep family connection that like many relationships was hidden from view. Many years ago, Don’s father – Don Smith, Sr. helped me financially at a time when I needed it the most. Now his son was facing the end of life and no amount of money could change that – yet I felt a deep longing and desire to help him now as he reached out to help me in the past.
As we concluded our time together, Don (in his typical fashion) said, well if timing means anything, best to need a liver when it’s vacation season and travel is abundant. We both laughed and yet, at the same time, knew that someone would have to lose their life in order to save his. Either way, the outcome is dramatic.
Then Don said something profound. “The worst thing that could happen – Chuck – would be to find out that when my life in this body is over – to find out that I did nothing to help or bring meaning to others. Perhaps my humor helps others or perhaps my life is a testimony of why one should not abuse Tylenol. What I want to know is that this life has been lived for something.”
As we hugged I knew that both he and his family had lived lives that were a testimony to their beliefs. They made a difference in other peoples lives. They certainly did in mine and for that I am truly thankful.
Now…my prayers are that Don, Jr. and I will be talking in 80 days and perhaps his “tan” will disappear as he continues to bring meaning to others he touches!
God bless you Don!