An Authentic, Sometimes Gritty, and Always Hopeful Blog for All Who Live with Severe Physical Pain

Monday, October 17, 2011

On Choosing to Live Positively No Matter What

A few years ago, I was visiting my father, who had been hospitalized after having a seizure.  Dad already had been treated for lung cancer the year before, and we braced ourselves for more bad news.

While I was visiting Dad, an orderly arrived to take him for a MRI.  Getting permission to tag along for moral support, soon we were in the elevator, where the orderly pressed one of sub-level floors of the hospital.  The orderly, kept up a friendly banter as we rode down, providing us with a needed distraction.

Once off the elevator, he led us down a long, quiet hallway, stopping Dad’s wheelchair outside a room marked “Imaging Center”.  “Here we are!” he announced, momentarily interrupting a story he was telling Dad. “They will come get us when they’re ready.” 

Though he continued to talk, neither Dad nor I was listening.  

Our eyes were riveted by what we saw; just a stone's throw away from us, 
across the hall was a body on a stretcher covered up with a sheet! 

 I tried to block Dad’s view, shocked that our orderly could be so insensitive.  As I was forming words of complaint in my head, I looked again at the body and, gasped aloud when I saw that the sheet was moving! 

A snowy-white, bony hand, covered with a multitude of age spots appeared from inside the sheet, pulling it down slowly, like the opening of a cocoon.  Inside the cocoon we saw an ancient man; cataract-whitened eyes, his face pulled smooth against his checks, forehead and nose,  with inches and inches of wrinkles pooled under his chin.  His head was bald, except for a few wispy white hairs and as darkly spotted as his hands.  

His eyes blinked in the brightly lit hallway, and while Dad and I stared at him in shock, 
he looked over at us and gave us a little wave.

Our orderly, not showing the least bit of surprise upon seeing this little old man, broke into a great grin, and greeted him  warmly, saying, “Hello, Mr. Johnson!  How are you today?”

Then, this obviously very ill man, whom I had just a few breaths before taken for dead, broke into a large (albeit toothless) smile, as though laying under a sheet in that cold hallway was the most natural thing in the world.  His smile was like a child’s, innocent and accepting.  When he spoke, his voice was but a quiet whisper, as he replied, “I can’t complain!”

I looked at my dad, and he looked back at me, our eyes round with wonder.  Mr. Johnson couldn’t complain?!  If anyone had something to complain about, surely he did, beginning with why had he been left in this cold hallway under nothing but a sheet!  And, who had taken his teeth? 

Yet, Mr. Johnson had discovered a secret in life.  He knew that although he could not choose what might happen to him, he could choose how to make the best of it.  

He discovered that attitude is a choice.

It was an unforgettable moment for my dad and me.  Dad’s MRI would reveal the worst possible news-- cancer had metastacized to his brain--and he would die about a year later. However, Dad rarely complained, choosing, instead, to be thankful for God having preserved his life for as long has he had done so, and he used the time he had left  to help others in their own cancer journeys.  

When I became ill, just a few months after Dad died, Mr. Johnson’s words came ringing back into my head.  I complain a lot--too much.  But, when I choose not to do so; and use my energy towards positive ends, I undoubtedly feel better.  

Thank you for reading!
Until next week,


A cheerful heart is good medicine,
   but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22 (NIV)

And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is
 just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious; whatever is
excellent and admirable--fill your thoughts with these things.
Philippians  4:8 (New English)

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