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Posted September 22, 2004

What Good Things Are You Doing Now?

Taken from Riding the Dragon

A number of years ago a very close friend of mine in his early forties was dying from brain cancer. He was outrageous and we constantly teased one another. Even though he was dying, this did not stop.

He had been living in New York and I hadn’t seen much of him in the years since I was the best man at his wedding. When he was hospitalized in Philadelphia to undergo experimental treatment, I visited him. When I came to visit he had already been there for almost two weeks.

When I inquired about his health he shared a summary of his condition, which included loss of short-term memory. So, I said to him: “You mean you can’t even remember what happened yesterday?” He said: “No.”

“So,” I said, “if I were here yesterday you wouldn’t remember my visit?” He said: “No.”

Then I smiled and said: “So, you don’t remember me coming in and sitting here with you each day for five hours for the past two weeks?” He looked at me, hesitated for a second or two, grinned widely, and said . . . well, I can’t share exactly what he said — after all, this is a spiritual book — but together we both had a good laugh over it.

One of the things he did surprise me with, though, was a question that really helped me put my activities in perspective. He asked: “What good things are you doing now?” as I started to launch into an obsessive (naturally well-organized) list of my recent academic and professional accomplishments, he interrupted me saying: “No, not that stuff. I mean what really good things have you done? When have you gone fishing last? What museums have you visited lately? What good movies have you seen in the past month?”

The “good things” he was speaking about the last time I saw him alive were different from the ones I in my arrogant good health thought about. Unfortunately, I have a lot of company in this regard.