I received an instant message the other day from a college friend, John, living in Massachusetts and not spoken to in years. Sometimes such “out of the blue” communications are initiated for no articulable reason; other times, the break in the information darkness is not routine. John’s contact was of the latter sort.
John got to the point—our mutual college buddy, Dan, had stage four metastatic melanoma. Dan had visited me in Texas to attend my navy pilot winging ceremony in 1987. Was that the last time I saw him? I couldn’t remember. I would, however, receive the occasional email from Dan over the years, his most recent being sent just six months ago when Dan was still oblivious to his deteriorating condition.
Melanoma. How much time does that leave Dan, I wondered, knowing that it was a particularly aggressive form of cancer? Probably months, but maybe weeks, I concluded.
Dan and I spoke on the phone the next day. He sounded great: upbeat, sharp, funny. That didn’t surprise me. Always thoughtful and curious, Dan had been a towering, muscular football player in college, but he was also a confident leader and the kind of genuinely nice guy who really listened.
Dan only found out he had cancer late in the game, skipping the first three quarters and going straight to stage four; he joked with me, although it was true. It had metastasized to major organs, causing Dan to lose sixty pounds in the three months that he was aware of the unwelcome visitor. Try as I might, I couldn’t visualize Dan as frail, but that was what he was describing.
After we hung up, I reflected on the call and my friend from four decades past. And I thought about time, how much of it Parkinson’s had left me while being in such short supply for Dan. We all will die: how much time was enough? Was more always better, or could there be too much?
Dan seemed to be as well adjusted to his fate after three months as it had taken me 16 years to achieve. Was there a “right” amount of time for any circumstance? Perhaps we can only reach eternity after time is recognized for what it is, a dimensional relic that we choose to use to mark the relative cadence of our lives.
Maybe it is not in the quantity of time that we find lasting value but in the intensity of the timeless spirit of creation that we are comforted. Could it always be the perfect time?