There are many things that happen to us along life’s journey. I decided a long time ago that it’s not necessarily a matter of good and/or bad…….it’s a matter of what I learn. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in life……was the value of a human life. The value of a friend. The value of how important life is and how precious life is. It was also the hardest lesson I have ever learned.
Her name was Toni.
Toni and I grew up together. At times we were inseparable. At times we would go our own roads and meet back again. It started in second grade when I would race my bicycle and try to arrive at her house before the bus would drop her off. Hours would be spent just talking, pulling leaves off a shrub, and sharing candy. I really do not remember a time when Toni was not in my life. It was a bond that was hard to describe; the friend that would come along once in a life time. The friend that would be forever.
Forever was taken away from me.
I was rehearsing the Sound of Music at summer stock in beautiful Salem New Hampshire/Lowell Massachusetts. I saw Toni the night before I left. It was a great time. “You will make it Tommy (called by my closest of friends); I know it. We will see you on stage in New York one day. And I’ll be there.” If you don’t know anything about summer stock theatre….it’s brutal……but make no mistake; every actor loves it. Eight complete shows in nine weeks; 5 musicals. I had very nice roles that summer and everything was about as perfect as can be. We were treated like royalty by the locals and the newspaper critics were very good to some of us, myself included. It was about as high as one could be. The perfect summer.
My stage manager tracked me down as we broke from rehearsal.
“Your mom called, she asked you to call home….she said nothing urgent.”
To this day, the very same thing my mother does to try to keep us calm is always a red flag; things were about as far away from ‘nothing urgent’ as one could imagine. I raced to a phone.
Her tone told me instantly that this was going to be a bad call.
“Hi. I needed to tell you that a friend of yours is sick. Very sick. Toni is in a coma.”
Nothing else after that statement mattered one iota. A brain aneurysm. There was nothing she could do. I called Toni’s mom and she said, “How did you find out so fast? I just hung up with the hospital.” Toni was no longer in a coma, she was gone.
During an air traffic controllers strike (the only plane that left that day from Boston to NY was mine); I had to leave at 3 am, get picked up, go to the funeral, drive back to New Hampshire and be there for opening night. Tired would not fit into the mix. There was no option and to miss an opening night on Toni’s account would have made her FURIOUS with me….so I knew THAT is what I had to do.
There was much surrounding the next six months of my life. Too much to list here. But the take away I knew was that we will always get older and people close to us will pass. That’s a part of life. The loss of a child is an exception. THAT should NOT be a part of life. Kids are not supposed to die. Young people should not die either. In my early twenties, a woman who had everything to live for, was gone.
My lesson learned in all of that mess was that every single second must be accounted for; to ourselves. If for no other reason, for ourselves. Friends are very important to me. Family is very important to me. Because in the one-second-act of terrorism or a criminal act, a derailed train, a plane mishap, a car accident, or the failing of our own bodies can take something so precious that we loved so much….very, very quickly.
A mom once asked me how I stay so positive in dealing with diabetes. “It’s as if you don’t think anything disastrous can happen. Do you think you live with your head too high in the clouds?”
“No, it’s the complete opposite. I know EXACTLY what can happen in life. I have lived it. I have come to understand that the little things that we let get to us, honestly-really-truly do not really matter that much to me. Not anymore. Positive is a good energy to tap into. And even though I will fail at doing it a lot……it is how I TRY to live.”
What some people take a lifetime to understand, I learned too young. It was not fair. Life isn’t. Thirty-plus years after she was taken, she is still thought of; and still missed. Life was never supposed to be fair……..it was supposed to be a journey. What we choose to learn during that journey is up to us.
Hug someone you love today……….you just never know……it may become just one second too late.
I am a diabetes dad.
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