A few weeks ago I bumped into an old friend on my way home from the office – an older entrepreneur who’s both controversial and inspiring.
I knew he’d been battling cancer for years and he once explained that he always felt like he was living on ‘borrowed time’.
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When I noticed him walking, I went over to say a quick hello. And as I shook his hand and asked him how he was, he replied “Not too good,” with a weak smile. I asked if it was his health, to which he replied “Yeah, I’m going to die soon. For real now.” When I asked how much time had had left, he shrugged and said he probably wouldn’t last another month.
I’ve known him for a while, and as we’ve often discussed his illness and dying, it didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable to be standing on the street chatting now. It was actually very interesting to find out how he planned to live out the last few weeks of his life. After all, knowing you are going to die changes your perspective on things.
A few years ago my doctor found something suspicious at one of my check ups. I had blood and tissue samples taken and a few x-rays; then I spent a week waiting for the results.
During what seemed like the longest week of my life, I came to terms with the idea that my life might be over a lot faster than expected. It was both awful and amazing. You’re suddenly forced to think about everything in your life – what you’ve accomplished, what was left to achieve, and mull over how you’ve impacted the lives around you.
When the results came back, it was all good news. While I still needed an operation, I wasn’t going to die anytime soon. Looking back, I almost wish everyone had to experience this on some level. The insecurity of waiting is almost unbearable, but becoming painfully aware that you, too, will eventually die is very productive and certainly clears your head.
I thought about that as I was talking to my old and dying friend. After a few minutes I figured I shouldn’t keep him up for too long and take a quick moment to thank him for inspiring me. In a way I was trying to say goodbye. As as I fumbled through the words to explain my gratitude, he suddenly smiled… then turned around and walked away.
I stood there stunned, with my mouth open in mid-sentence. As he waved and, without looking, shouted “Goodbye, Boris! Have a good life!” I realized that if you only have a few weeks to live, you don’t have a lot of time to be patient.