This I Believe

James - Richmond, Virginia
Entered on July 5, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

Suzanna’s Gift

Not long after I started working, I began to hate Mondays. Sometimes I hated Tuesdays, Wednesdays and even Thursdays. Mondays to Fridays were the days I got paid to do something that someone else wanted done. On Saturdays and Sundays I did work-type things at home without being paid. I did these things because I wanted them done. I loved Saturdays and Sundays.

As I slowly grew wiser I realized that the price of not enjoying five days out of every seven was too high. And then came Suzanna’s gift.

One day I had a telephone call: Suzanna had cancer and was nearing her end. I decided to make my final visit with her. I drove to the communal farm where she worked, entered the beautiful healing center, and was shown into a bedroom.

I could see that there was something under the blankets on the bed. Not much of a thing because the mattress did not sag and the blankets remained quite flat. Only when the eyes in the skull opened, did I realize that Suzanna was still somewhere inside the skeleton. Over the next hour or so we communicated. Or should I say, sort of communicated. She could barely speak and drifted in and out of consciousness, in and out of the skeleton. We shared long silences.

Finally, the skull opened its eyes and Suzanna smiled at me. “Look what they gave me,” she whispered with an effort. It took me awhile, and her a lot of energy, before I focused on what she wanted me to see. On the opposite wall was a gift voucher for a book, painted on a piece of plywood. It read “Thank you for starting the basket weaving factory.” Suzanna never got to use the gift voucher, she never read another book. But that piece of plywood was the real gift. It told the story of her life’s work. It told of the joy she brought to others who became gainfully employed.

Sitting there, I wondered if anyone would take the trouble to paint me a piece of plywood. What would they write? And then I understood that I must look beyond the skeleton of my work to find its meaning, just as I had to look beyond the skeleton on the bed to find Suzanna. Unless I did, then one day I would look back on my adult life and would have to admit that I stopped myself from enjoying 70% of my time. Finally, a belief-penny dropped: I create my life, not only through the choices I make, but also those I don’t make.

I still had time to influence what people would paint on my piece of plywood, but it took that visit with Suzanna to get me to change my approach to life. One change was a book I wrote about how nonsense stops us living a successful life. Now it seems as if, like Suzanna, I will one day smile at my piece of plywood.