Last week, I spent the better part of two days as a visitor to the famed MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where a friend who is closer than a brother to me underwent major surgery to remove his prostate.
Although I have known about this place for a long time, heard about its worldwide reputation as a leader in cancer treatment and research, I thankfully never had occasion to actually go there until my lifelong friend from the neighborhood was diagnosed.
One thing that struck me while I was there was a humbling sense of gratitude as I watched some very sick people trudging through the hallways, towing wheeled I.V. stands filled with bags of fluid and tubes running into their weakened bodies.
I also felt a deep sense of … it is hard for me sometimes to identify my feelings and emotions, but I guess what I felt was love. Growing up in a family where shows of affection were non-existent, communication was difficult, and the words “I love you” were rarely, if ever, heard, a seemingly simple thing like giving and receiving love has always been a little confusing for me.
There were eight of us who waited from the beginning to the end of the seven-hour surgery – my friend’s wife, his oldest son, longtime business partner, and five close friends, including me. When it was over, most of us decided to go on home – or in my case, a hotel – and wait until the next day to see him again, since the surgery was difficult and we figured he would not be in the best of shape for a lot of visitors right away.
The next day is when the magic happened.
My other childhood friend, Joe, and I met for breakfast at a place on Westheimer Road and then headed over to the hospital. We were the only ones there for a while, talking to Bobby and his wife for about an hour as various nurses and attendants popped in and out, doing this and checking that; then most all of his family walked into the room: his son; his daughter and her husband; his two young stepsons; his stepdaughter and her boyfriend. I knew half of the group, but had never spent much time with any of them.
Joe and I were going to take off, to give everybody a little more space – it was standing-room-only in there – and a chance to visit; but when I told Bobby we were going to go, he said, “Why? Don’t go yet. Shut the door. Stay five more minutes.”
Well, that five minutes turned into two hours. Bobby was in pain, wincing from time to time, shutting his eyes for a few seconds once in a while as a wave of discomfort rose deep in his abdomen, but also in his usual great spirits, relieved to have the surgery behind him. There was lots of story-telling, reminiscing, laughter, hugs all around – the usual close, loving family stuff.
And the really neat thing was, not only was I a witness to all this love and affection, I was included. I actually felt like part of the family.
Joe and I finally did leave after about a three-hour visit, and I told him about this as we walked to the elevator. He looked at me and said, “People love you, John.”
“Someday, I’ll figure that out,” I said.
First Corinthians 12:4-8 says: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things; endures all things.”
Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
I am not a person who has a lot of close friends, mostly I think because it is hard for me to accept love; to acknowledge the fact that I am loveable, or deserve to be loved. I am blessed, however, to have a few really good friends who love me in spite of my many shortcomings, and from whom I am learning to be a better, more loving man.
It is nearly nine hours since I left MD Anderson and headed home, as I sit here writing these words, and I am still a little overwhelmed by the past two days. I think it is going to take a while to process everything I am feeling.
One of these days, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I am going to figure out once and for all that it is OK to let people love me.
If you can identify, then I will tell you this – it’s OK to let people love you, too.
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