I believe in DEFINING MOMENTS. Mine came at age 8 when I and my best friend at the time, who later became a hugely successful dot-com entrepreneur, were caught shoplifting gum from the neighborhood store. That intense, scary feeling at an impressionable age insured in me a lifetime of honesty. It was a crisp, defining moment that crystallized the core of my moral fiber. I cried a lot, but in retrospect, it was a good day.
None of us actively seek defining moments. We’d all rather coast along obliviously, and not be forced to learn important life lessons the hard way. Defining moments are usually painful. Yet, without a defining moment to steer us, we are at risk of wandering aimlessly.
The defining moment for most of my patients is obvious; it is when they hear the words “You have can-cer.” I’m sure you all agree that day is a bad day. But my patients will surprise you. You see, my patients are kids. Yes, I know its not fair, but kids do get cancer. Around 14,000 children each year are diagnosed in the United States. We are doing better at achieving cures for the most common type of cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but we have a long way to go for many of the other types. For those who don’t make it, it truly is one long, bad day.
But those who have been in a long remission, or have even been cured, tell me differently. Through the blessings of former tennis professional, now Sister, Andrea Jaeger and her Little Star Foundation, I have had the unique opportunity to sit with group after group of kids with cancer to hear them reflect on their experiences. My jaw literally dropped when I first heard one of them say: “I’m glad I got cancer.” Shock-ingly, one after another echoed the same: “I’ve been blessed by cancer,” they said.
At young ages, they already knew the demeaning depths and harrowing heights life could offer. Cancer gave them a challenge; beating cancer gave them confidence. Most found new friends; many even found God. Often they found a new purpose: to become a health care provider, to volunteer at the hospital, or simply to provide friendship for those in need. They were actually THANKFUL they had been diagnosed with cancer. Thinking back to the day they heard those dreaded words, in retrospect, is it possible it was actually a good day?
I’d like to think we don’t all have to experience such painful challenges to become compassionate, be confident, or have a calling. But I do believe we all have defining moments that make us who we are.
Yesterday my 16 year old son crashed his car. An 18 year old hit him straight on the side, where there were 2 passengers, and he bounced into a third car. Amazingly, no one was hurt. Of course, he was visi-bly upset and shaken. His teenage infallibility showed a crack. The tenuousness of life briefly stared him in the face. We were all very lucky, despite the more than $10,000 price tag. Was this one of his defining moments? Did it prevent something worse in the future? I don’t know, but given that no one was hurt, it was a damn good day.
Defining moments come in all shapes and sizes, and at all ages. They may be quick, or they may take longer to gel. I believe in the long run they are important. Have you had your defining moment? Look for that bad day, someday gone good.