Learning to Live

Published in The Times Picayune 2009

I’ve used the expression “teachable moments” frequently in the past few weeks. A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises where a teacher has a chance to offer insight to students. Where I find myself right now is clearly unplanned and I will have some insight to share about my battle with cancer. But for now, I wish to share something I learned shortly after my diagnosis. So does that make this a “learn-able moment?” I suspect not. That doesn’t roll of the tongue in the same way.

Shortly after my diagnosis on December 18th, Brad suggested I read the book Tuesdays With Morrie. It tells the story of Mitch Albom learning life-lessons from his former favourite professor Morrie Schwartz who was diagnosed with ALS. For fourteen Tuesdays, Mitch boarded a flight in his hometown Detroit, MI and traveled to West Newton, MA. The sub-title on the book’s cover reads, “an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lessons.” And for fourteen consecutive Tuesdays, they met and Mitch eventually published the details of those meetings. It is a touching read and as I sat by myself reading the book, I cried on several occasions.

The subject of their fourth meeting was death. Morrie’s line was, “Everyone knows they’re going to die but no one believes it.” That made a lot of sense. Until I got my diagnosis, death was an abstract, far-off concept. It became real in the blink of an eye.

Mitch asked, “do we kid ourselves about death?” Until this point, I think that describes my mindset. But when death becomes real, kidding ourselves is no longer an option.

There was a lot of dialogue between Mitch and Morrie but it concluded with a line I find powerful and meaningful, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” You learn how to die when you fully accept it could happen anytime. Getting a cancer diagnosis simply pushes thinking about death to the top of your thoughts. All of us could die anytime. I could die walking across the street to an appointment at the cancer clinic.

I can’t fully describe the transition but something clicked in me when I read the line “whey you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” I think the click was me learning how to die, so I’m ready to learn how to live.

In simple terms, my decision to live life to the fullest is my go-forward plan. I plan to spend time reconnecting with friends from the past, spend quality time with my current friends, and make new friends.

I’ve figured out that love trumps everything. That is living.

Before my diagnosis, I was exploring my spirituality and decided to begin a relationship with God. I wish to get baptized and am getting help accelerating that exercise.

And there is more but suffice it to say, having learned how to die, and how to live, I am at a place of emotional peace.

From here I am ready to face whatever is ahead.

As always, thank you for being at my side. Your love is my strength.

4 Replies to “Learning to Live”

  1. Beautiful text. It is True I think that everybody knows that they will die someday but only a few can believe or accepting the fact. If accepted you indeed live a better live but even thenthere is still a lot to learn. For you it is baptism, for me I am trying to follow buddha’s thoughts.

  2. Read that book years ago. It may be time for a re-read. Those wisdoms need to be reviewed periodically as we have short memories on important lessons. That’s why it is called a faith journey. Thank you for your reflections Phil. Hold fast.

  3. Lovely words! The saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is so true. For some (and I count you and me in the “some”), we are lucky enough to grasp the notion that life is a privilege, rather than taking it for granted until it’s gone! All strength to you, Phil. xo

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