Woke up this Saturday morning and I feel like a weight has been lifted that was crushing me. Besides some great news Thursday a funny thing happened on my Southwest Airlines flight home Friday morning.
Those who have flown on Southwest all know the drill. I was in group B1, my wife boarded at B19. As I followed the group onto the jetway and entered the cabin there were two front row seats open on my left with a man sitting next to the window, I glanced into the cabin and saw about half of the seats were filling fast. I couldn’t believe these two seats were left unoccupied. As I sat down in the spacious aisle seat I commented to the seated man that this seat must have been my destiny. I was kind of joking.
He asked if I was on vacation or going home. I point-blank told him I was at MDAnderson and had recently been diagnosed with stage four cancer. He immediately expressed his sorrow over the diagnosis. I then told him that he should not be sad since I was the guy with the cancer, but thanked him for his condolences. He went on to make a comment that I didn’t seem like other folks he had encountered with this bleak prognosis. My wife was still working her way into the cabin and my thoughts were, “I hope the seat next to me was not taken by another boarding passenger.”
He asked me, how I could be seemingly happy with my cancer prognosis? I then told him that after finding out that all my chemotherapy treatments had provided no retreat for this aggressive type of cancer, I was the fourth person at MDAnderson to qualify for a genetic modification trial since 2015. I also commented that I felt I qualified because of many prayers being sent my way for the last few weeks. Only 130 people world-wide have been given the opportunity for this clinical trial because of the requirement of a specific radical genetic, biological markers to be exact.
He then made a comment I soon understood. He said, “thank God, I felt like I was going to have to provide you with an explanation of God’s plan for us all.” I told him thanks, but I was beginning to sense a plan was already in motion. In an attempt to change the conversation, I asked him what his story was and where his home was.
The man, Jimmy Garcia is 61 years old and he was originally born in Puerto Rico, but his mother had abandoned him when he was six months old along with his six year old sister. After a little orphanage time his grandfather got him out of that system and he ended up in New York. He was also retired after operating a successful business he created at the beginning of the digital scanning industry boom. As an engineer he felt this was a business he could do and he then captured a great account with Corning Industries and the rest was a very happy financial ending. We both remarked that starting a new business, and securing finance to do so, was sometimes the hardest part of a business startup. We both felt that asking a bank for help with any new business venture was kind of like asking someone for their umbrella during a storm. Unlikely a bank will offer any help when you really need it.
He went on to tell me that he had sold his business and moved from New York to Kentucky to retire. We both agreed that Kentucky was a beautiful state and much more laid back than New York. Jimmy went on to tell me that he had two sons and his primary goal with his business was to be able to pay their way thru a college degree. One son was a youth minister and the other had spent a long time in school and had finally graduated from the Berkley School of Music in Massachusetts. The best part of his story was that he had a new grand child and he was moving to Houston to be close to his son, the youth minister and his new grandchild.
He then told me that holding his grandson was the best feeling he has every experienced and that in the past he was driven to making his business a success. He then told me of his activities since “retiring” and besides long distance bicycle jaunts he was providing ministry counseling in prisons. By this time my wife had joined us and sat between us for this conversation. The talk consumed our two hour flight to Chicago, I eventually told them I needed to take a nap and they continued the conversation for the last half an hour of the flight.
When I put my iPhone into music mode one of my recent theme songs came on, for a while I had listened to a Jeff Beck tune, I’m Going Down…..down, down, down, down, down. The next few songs always bring me back with a bit of John Prine and Neil Young.
After getting up in Houston at 3:00am for the 6:15am flight, landing in Chicago at 8:15am and driving home for two hours I waited for a recently deceased great friend’s, Jack Martin, daughter and son-in-law to arrive from Palo Alto, California for a party being thrown for me today, Saturday. We went out for a meal, with my brother and sister-in-law, broke some bread and drank some wine. About 10:30 that evening I collapsed into a much needed rest.
Funny thing happened this morning when I awoke around 6:15am. Not only did I feel refreshed from this sleep, I realized my anxiety of dying had been completely removed from my mind. No matter what happens next, I’m good with it.
Several people have sent messages to me that they didn’t think my story was over and that perhaps there was another plan for this part of my life. For a while I felt, nice sentiment if I don’t croak.
I now know something, the time for helping others who are less fortunate than myself is here. At this time I feel that my actions would be best illustrated by quietly, as my dear departed friend Jack Martin would say, “doing what needs to be done.”
As I prepare to go home to Las Vegas I now realize that one of the most glaring things I have noticed, besides the non-stop party, gambling, fine dining and first-rate entertainment, is the plight of the countless homeless people sleeping on the streets of Vegas.
I can no longer drive by mothers and children struggling to feed themselves. I also can’t think that they should just get a job like most of us do. Other people’s situations, whether it is mental illness, drug use, abused and the such are opportunities for us all to reach out. Not to judge, rather to reach out and offer a hand up.
I’m certain there are some interesting stories from these abandoned souls and I might share those stories, or not. These stories of those people less fortunate than ourselves are everywhere in just about every country. I now know that those who extend out compassion for those less fortunate souls are the true benefactor’s of charity.
Those who know me realize that I am no stranger to great food. Part of the research team told me that one almost universal side-effect from this genetic modification therapy is normally the loss of taste. I think if that’s the worst side-effect, I could stand to lose more than a few pounds and focus on some things more important than self-gratification. Hello cream of wheat, forget the incredible, edible egg yolk and other high phosphorus types of food.
So I will close with a thanks to Jimmy Garcia and all of many who have offered myself and my family prayers.
A closing note- Still have taste and if you are anywhere close to uptown Normal today between the hours of 4:00pm and 8:00pm stop by my tent at “Rock the Block” to enjoy a story or two, some cold beverages and a snack or two.