I’m so excited guys! i entered into the Laws of Life essay contest, run by the Better Business Bureau. The prompt was essentially this: What law of life do you apply everyday? I ended up winning first place in my grade. i will post a link shortly that will connect to my profile on their website.
When most people think of the Laws of Life, death usually doesn’t come to mind. But for me, death is the first thing that pops into my head when I hear those words. I have learned more about life from my experiences amongst the dying than I have among the living.
Since my freshman year of high school, I have volunteered at Hospice of the Valley (HOV), a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide physical, spiritual, and emotional comfort for those at the end of their lives and their loved ones. Most people are shocked to hear that I volunteer there, asking me how I am ever able to cope with it. And I understand this initial reaction, because death is something that is often so scary and horrifying that people never even want to let the thought of it enter their brains. So people often assume that me working there would dim my outlook on life or cause me to be depressed, when in fact, it is the exact opposite. And don’t get me wrong—there have been plenty of days where I come home in tears, or shaking from shock. But I have never found so much meaning, wisdom and serenity anywhere else.
When you walk inside an HOV unit, the environment is exactly like a home; there is a kitchen, living room, the walls are filled with art, and everyone there is unbelievably kind. It is quite unlike most nursing homes, which tend to be very gray and depressing. Honestly, every time I volunteer, my faith is restored in the good of humanity because I am surrounded by so much compassion. This is the kind of compassion that inspires true connection, allowing people to access emotions and thoughts that they never realized existed. This is especially true for the patients residing there, and through observation and conversation I have not only grown emotionally, but spiritually as well.
There is one patient in particular that I will always remember.
My mom is a doctor at Mayo Hospital, who collaborates with Hospice. She got attached to this one patient, who I will call Mr. Smith. She talked about him almost daily, saying how wonderful he was. She even once saved his life, but he ended up getting very sick again and went into Hospice, just as I began my volunteering career. She wanted me to meet him. He had terminal cancer, and he was lying in bed with tubes through his nose, and I remember parts of his body were very swollen. The minute I sat down to converse with him, he started to share with me his deepest thoughts; you have to understand that when people are dying, there is no time for small talk. He started to tell me about his experience with my mom and how she saved his life, saying how lucky he felt. He was reflecting on his life and he told me that he had no regrets, that he was grateful for the time that he had, for seeing his kids grow up, falling in love, and really just living a full and happy life. I remember one thing that he said: “In the future, you may not remember my name. And names don’t matter. Just promise me you will always remember my smile. One day you will see it on someone else, and when you do, I want you to think of me.” And the minute that I walked out of that room, I dissolved into a pool of tears.
My tears were sad, that is true. But my tears were also happy. They were overwhelming. They were just…alive. My emotional quotient at that moment was the definition of all Mr. Smith had taught me about life in fifteen minutes.
The true lesson that I have carried with me from that day forward is the importance of living. Too often, people get lost in superficiality. We stress over meaningless things. But in the end, that one grade on that one math test is not going to change anything; time stressing over it, however, will. That A may seem so important now, but no one ever at the end of their life says “I wish I had worked harder” or “I wish I had been smarter.” Mr. Smith had no regrets because he had chosen to live and love fully. Because when you are at the end of your life, only one thing matters: love. When I am on my deathbed, I don’t want to have any regrets. I want to be able to say that I have loved. I have loved life. I have loved my family and my friends. I have pursued my passions.
And lastly, I have loved myself.