Strength in the face of pain or grief–a definition of courage.
When I formally met L in my building, he was carrying a beautiful bunch of flowers. They were for his girlfriend–just because. Those are the best times to get flowers, or any gift–the just because times. I had seen L around the building and noticed him because of his positivity and boyish good looks. If I were in my 20’s he’s someone I would have wanted to be around–a lot. He is not sappy or trying to be upbeat; he just is.
Separately, I met the woman who turned out to be his girlfriend. When I talked to her in the elevator, L came to mind. I thought about how they belonged in a romantic comedy. And so, it made sense when I actually saw them at the grocery store pushing one cart.
And then a couple months went by and I caught a few glimpses of her but not of L. She and I were in the elevator again and on the short ride to the 17th floor found out L had cancer and not a “kind” form. I got out of the elevator and felt my stomach drop down to my knees. I just wanted to hug L and tell him it was all going to be fine which is what people say when they don’t know what to say. I did hug him when I saw him next but I didn’t say it was going to be fine. I just wanted to be true and real. I didn’t want to sound like syrup and yet all the words coming out of my mouth sounded trite and meaningless in the face of what L was dealing with. And then I thought about what I would want someone to say and not sure I would want accolades but would probably want workaday conversation. Conversation that put me back into everyday life if just for a moment or two. L’s life is anything but workaday. I hate hospitals at the best of times, like going to see a friend and her baby so cannot imagine what L had to face. Going on a regular basis to open your body up to chemicals and treatments that make you so sick and so tired that the bed and the toilet become velcroed to you.
Now, I run into L more frequently– maybe weekly or every other week. He has been poked and prodded and inundated with different treatments, the doctors trying to nail the best cocktail for this virulent illness. And still there is that positivity of his. It continues to flow through all the other crap, along with a curiosity and continued caring for others and how we are doing. Today in the elevator he noticed my dog, Arlo’s paw was red. Turns out Arlo’s paw was bleeding, he had re-injured a toenail that had been mostly removed a couple weeks back. L noticed–not me. L notices a lot of things, things like bleeding toenails and what make people smile from the inside. I never feel pity around L. Rather, I feel a strength, a courage, a stick-to-itiveness and knowledge of what matters and a real mindfulness and presence. These qualities emanate from L. I got home tonight to an email from L asking me how Arlo’s toenail was and telling me that despite the nasty treatments that can flatten him for days at a time he has been out with friends and enjoying time with his girlfriend. He wrote he could not do much physical activity but would love to get into yoga when he can get back to moving more. When I talk to L I don’t see illness. I see the guy with the boyish good looks, gamin grin, stepping into the elevator with the just because bunch of flowers for his girlfriend. A teacher indeed.