Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Having a Future

 Mike pushed me in the wheelchair as we perused odd clearance items. “They have snowmen!” he suddenly gushed, looking like a four-year-old during the holidays. “Mind if I check out the next aisle while you’re looking here?” His sprit animal MUST be a golden Lab.

I nodded. It seemed like a great idea; I could peruse clearance games until he came back. That’s when a man approached me. “Why are you using a wheelchair?” he asked.

I sighed. Sometimes it’s nice just to be alone, but it rarely happens. People would be shocked how much time cancer patients spend comforting others about their own diagnoses—even strangers… like this man. “I have stage four cancer,” I said. “They replaced my L3 with a cage. Between that and the cancer still in my spine… it’s hard to walk very far.”

“But you might beat this. Doctors can be wrong. Don’t accept the world ‘terminal.’”

I’m so tired of this same conversation that I’ve had HUNDREDS of times with numerous people. So, I started telling this man something that I hadn’t told anyone. “Sometimes I wake up, terrified that I might actually beat this. It’s… horrifying, and I don’t know why. Doctors say every month that I’ll die from this. It always gets worse even if it is slowly. And…” I held a sob back. “It’s useless to worry about living, so why do I stress about something I can’t even control?” He took in a huge breath. “I don’t want it to be terminal. It’s not that I don’t want to live—I do—it’s just that…”

He leaned down, his blue eyes young despite the aging skin framing them. “I think I understand. I fought in Vietnam, and I thought I’d die for sure. Then, before I knew it, I headed home and so many others didn’t.” He paused. “I still don’t know if I’m used to having a ‘future,’ and it’s been decades.”

“I really don’t think I’ll beat this. I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic. I’m normally so upbeat and great at living in the present, but today I feel like a placeholder.”

“How so?”

“Just like I’m holding a place for my husband’s next wife. I’m a good friend right now for so-and-so. But I’ll die from this damn disease and time will march on for others… but not for me.”

“Well,” he said, resting his hand on mine, “I’ll tell you one thing, I will NEVER forget you.”

“I found one!” Mike hollered from the other aisle and then rushed over. As soon as he face crested a large display, I couldn’t help bursting into laughter because he hadn’t found “one”—that man found the snowman village!

“Mike, I want to introduce you. But I didn’t catch your name,” I turned, and then my face paled with complete surprise. “He’s… gone. The man I met. He… left.”


“He’s… the most amazing man. He said the sweetest thing when I needed it most.” But the man with the beautiful blue eyes wasn’t there anymore. 

So, after Mike set the snowman in my lap and pushed me around, I told him all about the man who fought in Vietnam—the man who made me feel like I mattered.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Elisa, you matter to me too and I'm so sorry I haven't kept in touch. My brain isn't working as it used to after the surgery. Sending much love to you. ~ Inger