Whitley and I recently helped save a friend?s life. It’s a strange feeling. We don’t feel heroic, only grateful, because he’s one of our favorite people.

We didn’t run into a burning building or jump off a bridge into icy water. We accepted an invitation to a beach house a few weeks ago and had a lovely, lazy weekend with our friends. While chatting in the living room, the husband happened to mention some annoying symptoms he’d been having for years.

Whitley recognized the problem immediately because he’s had the same symptoms of a troublesome prostate, the curse of middle-aged males. We urged our friend to have a blood test to check his PSA level and make sure he didn’t have cancer.

We must have convinced him, because he was in the hospital a week later. He’d gone home and called his doctor, then suddenly developed a high fever. He had a biopsy that revealed a prostate with a very aggressive tumor in it (9 on a scale of 10) and was on the operating table before he knew it. If he’d waited a few more weeks, the cancer would have spread and killed him.

He’s back home, grumpy from dragging around a catheter, but he’s a changed man. He’s decided he’s been working too hard at his job. He wants to retire and concentrate on writing poetry. He’s taken up the study of Buddhism.

It’s strange to have been so unwittingly important in one man’s life. I think that there are many times when we walk into other people?s lives without realizing it.

I remember one time many years ago when I was a young working girl. I got a call from someone I’d known in high school. We’d been friendly but not really friends. She was working as a telephone operator and calling people she knew in order to relieve her boredom.

She told me how she yearned to go to college and study archaeology, how she’d go to the nearby museum and stare at the mummies every day during her lunch hour. Filled with the optimism of youth, I encouraged her to enroll. I didn’t hear from her again until a couple of years later when she called to tell me she was marrying a professor she’d met in one of her college courses. We lost touch after that.

I had walked into her life at the right moment and talked her into doing what she was dying to do. Many others could have done the same, but I happened to be the one who answered the phone. I take no credit for these acts or others like them because they took no courage and little extra effort. Instead, I try to remember those who have walked into my life.

One woman I especially remember was dying of breast cancer. She would leave a husband and young son–one of our son’s classmates–behind. The class was collecting money to buy a gift certificate for their teacher’s wedding present, and we mothers were all arguing about which department store to choose when the woman said, “Why don’t we just give her the money?” Then she added apologetically, “I can’t get worked up about little things like this any more.”

Since then, whenever I become mired in details, I remember that moment.

She walked into my life and left me a gift on her way out. It didn’t take any special effort and all her courage was focused on fighting her disease. She probably forgot it as soon as she said it, but it was a gift just the same and one I gratefully accepted.

When I’m confronted by the Salvation Army bell ringer and read about people who give up their holidays to feed the hungry; when I hear a missionary preach about his work in Africa; when I feel the guilt of a comfortable, well-fed (but still complaining) middle-class white person, I remember that there have been times when, for whatever reason, I have happened to be in the right place at the right time, to give or get gifts from life.

NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.

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