I just left the side of my friend who is dying. I doubt that he will last through the day.
I have done this so many times…visited someone in hospice, sitting in awkward silence as they breathe the raspy, rattling, uneven breath of one who is near the end. Is this the last one?…this one?…this one?
I spoke to him. Thanked him for his friendship. Reminded him that soon his agony will be over. And I prayed for him, asking that God take him soon. Then I just sat with him in silence, not knowing if he heard me, if his vacant eyes belied an understanding that wasn’t apparent. And I got up and left.
Can I tell you about him?
I don’t plan to mention his name or reveal his identity, unsure of the family’s wishes for privacy, but I do want you to know of him because he is the personification of the idea for which I have given my life. The idea: Each of us is uniquely called to a particular destiny in this world. One that is an expression of our life story, personality, skills and passions. One that quite literally changes the world and human beings in remarkable ways.
My friend lived with such a destiny.
He had, years ago, shifted his focus from acquisition to contribution, from building up his ego to shedding his ego. Somewhere along the way my friend had a fire lit in him for justice. He became perpetually focused on providing what he could for victims of injustice, for leveling the playing field for the underdog, the victimized, and the under-resourced. He went so far as to leverage his influence to create a coalition of parents, students and community leaders who would run an after-school program geared to enhancing academic growth and physical health.
What he did sacrificially for his own family is awe inspiring and, again, for their privacy’s sake will be left to be told in the future. It makes me shake my head in wonder.
Then there is what he did for me and, I assume, countless others who called him friend. He listened to me. I would find myself talking too much when I was with him, not realizing until later that was the way he designed it. Lunch was a listening session for him. He paid attention to me and he remembered.
“How did your daughter’s move go?”
“Is your grandson feeling better?”
“Tell me about the conference you taught last month.”
And he gently but relentlessly persisted in his inquiry via text and email. I felt known. I felt important. I felt loved. This was a dear man who had discovered the “further and fantastic journey” of a life lived with a driving sense of calling. And what a life it was.
I wasn’t planning to write this today, but with every mile I drove on my way home I felt compelled to tell you about him. And I will tell his story to hundreds of college undergrads just beginning their journey, and the many middle-aged folks I meet who are struggling with disillusionment, and the retirees wondering how to land the plane with grace and meaning.
My friend had a why to live for. You can too.