Here is an excerpt from the speech I gave in Miami on Saturday, October 11th, 2008.
Exactly one year ago, on October 8th, one of my closest friends lost her battle with breast cancer. The last few months of her life were quite a struggle, but she never lost her optimism or her determination to continue her fight, to stare down cancer and all its effects. To her very last moment, she was an inspiration to everyone around her. She looked death right in the face, and basically said “Bring it on, I’m not afraid….” It takes extraordinary courage to take a stand like that.
A few months before her death, we had dinner together. It was just the two of us, enjoying a rare night out for dinner at Legal Seafood’s in Boston. We were lucky to grab two seats at the bar. As soon as we sat down, I asked her how she was feeling. She looked right at me and said, “I know.” We didn’t need to exchange any more words. As a fellow cancer survivor, I knew exactly what she meant. She was dying and she knew it. More importantly, she knew she was dying, and she had accepted that fate. I glanced away, trying to hide my tears, but I couldn’t contain myself. I started to cry… and she did too. We sat there in silence for a few moments. The poor bartender didn’t know what to do with us – two crying women in a packed restaurant on a Saturday night. We were a bartender’s worst nightmare.
After a few minutes, Joan said… “Enough with this.. Let’s get down to business.” She opened her menu and started studying the appetizers and entrees. She looked and said “I’ve never tried sushi, raw oysters… stuffed lobster.” She plowed through the menu, ticking off all the things she had never tried… A big grin came over her face; she called the bartender over and said…. “We’d like all the appetizers on the left side of the menu please.” He looked at us and laughed. “What?? You want all those appetizers for the two of you?” he said. “Look,” she said, “do you want us to start crying again? We want to try all these appetizers…. And we’d like a sample of wine for each one.” What’s a bartender to say? From that point on, Bob the bartender became our best friend! We tried everything… tuna tartare, bluepoint oysters, Oysters Rockefeller, stuffed lobster. Bob dutifully brought out samples of wine for each appetizer. It was truly a culinary experience at its finest. As the night wore on, it was clear that Joan was teaching me a lesson, in her own special way. She tried tuna tartare and enjoyed every morsel. She looked at me and said “why did I wait so long to try this?” She was like a kid in a candy store… trying new things, tasting new wines, enjoying the whole experience.
It was clear she was on a mission. We sat there, late into the evening, until finally we were the last two left in the restaurant. We were absorbed in our conversation and the experience. Her lesson was clear…don’t wait until it’s too late to try something new. Don’t be afraid of new experiences; embrace them. She laughed throughout the evening, each time she tried a new item. Yes, there were some things she clearly didn’t like – like the raw clams, but she was determined to keep trying. Was she making up for what she perceived was lost time, and a shortened future? Absolutely, but she made it very clear to me… I was to go forward, embracing change in my life, living without fear, and accepting new situations for what they were – life lessons. Every day is a life lesson, so start living now….