I have a certain expectation when my cell phone chirps with an incoming text message. It’s usually one of two things: my husband punishing me for not being home, by sending me a photograph he just took of himself surrounded by cats, or a terse message from the person I was supposed to meet 15 minutes ago, asking me where I am. Sometimes the messages have those annoying little abbreviations, the ones that let me know I should be laughing out loud, or that the message is not suitable for the workplace. But after last Sunday, I don’t think I will ever feel the same about that little incoming message chime. That’s because I got a text from a friend who told me he was dying — and OMFG doesn’t really cover it.
Here’s what he wrote: “Sorry to break it on a text, but I thought you should know. Cancer. Stage 4. Lungs, bones, lymph nodes. Hospice for me. I hope you can respect my choice.” 29 words to tell me that a man I spent a lot of time with, whom I respect and love, will soon be gone.
Tom is an artist with a video camera. If you watch the news in Los Angeles, or any of the other cities where he plied his trade, you’ve seen his work. It was always just a little cut above the rest. He could be a pain in the ass, but he had that same virtue, that same flaw that all artistic people have, an absolute need to put his best, most creative foot forward. Always. While covering local news for KTLA-TV, I shot dozens of stories with Tom. He always made them better than they deserved to be.
When I got his message, I set aside a couple hours to cry. As a result, by the time I called him, he was asleep. Yes, I called the dying man in hospice care and woke him up. We talked for awhile about what had happened, and what would lie ahead. He told me he’d come to terms with it, that he had lived enough to be at peace with his fate. He had visited all the countries he wanted to see, and taken in a ballgame at every Major League stadium he ever wanted to visit. It’s possible he was just saying all those things to cheer me up, but I really hope he meant them.
I always see things in artistic terms. It felt to me as if he was saying he is satisfied with the canvas that is his life. It may not have been a masterpiece, but he was fine hanging it on the wall for everyone to see.
It’s impossible not to reassess your own life when you are losing someone important. Talking to Tom made me realize that I’m not yet satisfied with my canvas. I need to paint more, both literally and metaphorically, because at some point God will send me a text message, telling me I’ve run out of time, and I have to put down my brush.
I gotta get busy.