This I Believe

John - Lockport, New York
Entered on September 11, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

The other day I was thinking about my Grandfather and occurred to me that I haven’t seen or talked to him in almost a month. Up until a few months ago I treasured every moment I spent with him, not that I don’t now, it’s just that I made more of an effort to see him as often as possible. Last Christmas my Grandfather was diagnosed with inoperable testicular cancer. I remember thinking, “What an ironic time to be diagnosed with cancer, Thanks God, it’s just what I wanted! Merry Christmas.” but I knew I didn’t really mean it.

On a scale of one to ten, the doctors rated the aggressiveness of his tumor at nine, and because of his age surgery was a last resort. I felt like I might lose him forever. The time I spent with him became more and more important, and not in the cliché way that T.V. shows make it sound. When he was first diagnosed, I remember him coming over to my house, which he rarely does. When my grandfather came over to visit it usually meant he had something to say. My father and I were both watching T.V. when he came in. He acted as if every thing was ok and he didn’t have anything important to say, like he just wanted to visit, though he rarely stopped by unannounced.

Earlier in that week, my father and I were visiting at my grandparent’s house. We were sitting in the kitchen with both my grandparents talking about school and how I should be over their house helping them with some kind of chore, even though it was just an excuse to get me over to visit. The entire time we were visiting I could tell that there was something different about the atmosphere. I didn’t know what it was but behind my grandmother’s eyes I could tell that there was something she needed to say, but at the same time she didn’t want to admit. After a little while my grandfather went outside to get something he forgot in his truck and grandmother broke down. She told my father and I everything. I’ve always thought that my grandmother was a strong woman, but I realized how dependent she was on my grandfather. They have been through so much together.

When my grandfather came to visit later that week it wasn’t that much of a surprise. We sat and watched T.V. for a while and after about an hour he asked my father to come talk to him in the kitchen. This was when I realized that sometimes when you hear things from other people they lose some of their meaning. My father already knew my Grandfather had cancer. I’ll never forget it. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry.

I play the bagpipes because my Grandpa asked me to. He always jokes that he wanted me to learn them so I could play them at his funeral, but I always say “What good will that do? You won’t be able to hear them anyway.” So bagpipe practice became a way for us to spend more time with each other. The funny thing was that my grandfather never admitted to anyone, other than my grandmother and my parents, that he had cancer. Even though he knew I knew, he pretended as if nothing had changed in his life, despite all the radiation and chemo he was undergoing. We never spoke about anything that had to do with his cancer; you also have to understand that my grandfather is not a touchy-feely guy. We went to practice week after week and my grandfather became more and more of a father figure to me. My grandfather would give me life lessons every week when we went to practice. This was nice for me because of my relationship with my father. My Ma likes to say that my father and I will always butt heads. When he gave me lessons on life somehow it didn’t sound as preachy as my father. My family always said that I learned the hard way, and my grandfather accepted this, therefore his advice sounded more like talks whereas my fathers advise sounded more like orders. To this day I will always remember the things my grandfather had taught me, whether I do them or not, his voice is always in the back of my mind.

Around the end of January my bagpipe band plays at a festival called “Burn’s Night.” The event is the biggest concert of the year and my grandfather couldn’t wait to go, even though he’d heard us play the songs more times than anyone would ever want to hear in a lifetime. Two nights before the concert he had to go back to the hospital because his heart was in defibrillation, but to me that just meant that he couldn’t make the concert. I remember going to practice that week and Duncan, my pipe major, asked me where my grandfather was and I couldn’t even say anything. I just stood there for a second trying not to cry but the truth was I didn’t know whether or not he was going to be ok at this point. I could’ve been at the hospital with him but I know he would have wanted me to go to practice and not worry. I didn’t want Duncan to think he was dead so I choked out how he had cancer and that he was in the hospital. That night I learned that I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by good people because to this day Duncan has never said anything about my Grandfather having cancer, which is good because my grandfather would probably choke me if anyone in the band showed him an ounce of pity.

Later that night in practice I had to stop playing during “Amazing Grace.” It was my grandfather’s favorite song and I couldn’t help thinking he may never get to hear it again, besides if I started to cry the whole band would know something was wrong. “Burn’s Night” finally came and my grandfather insisted that he was fine and he went to the concert anyway. The night went really well I remember my grandmother being the happiest I had seen here in months. It was one of those moments that seem as if time slows down and life is perfect, there are no worries and the only thing on anyone’s mind is spending time with one another and making memories. Our band plays at the end of the night after the dinner, the stories, the jokes, the toasts, the toasts, the toasts, there were a lot of toasts. I will never forget the look on his face that night when we were playing. I looked through the crowd, face to face, every person there was watching, and listening with a somber reverence for the song we played. We began to play the last song and everyone began to sing…Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. There were almost five hundred people there that night but it seemed like I was only playing for one.

The other day someone asked me, “If there is one thing you learned from life, what would that one thing be?” I believe that life is a terrible thing to waste and you should spend every day living as though it is your last. I’m just glad I learned this before it was too late, a bit out of character for me.

-John MacKenzie