by Jeffrey S. Bell
If we remain present in our experience, we’ll discover teachings all around us. I’m an inmate volunteer in the hospice program at a federal medical center. Our mission is to provide comfort and aid to the terminally ill patients incarcerated here.
My most recent patient, Paddy, suffered from lung and brain cancer. Paddy was a very gracious man who though terminally ill, maintained a remarkably high quality of life.
One evening as we sat drinking our coffee and chatting – our ritual every evening – Paddy told me of a letter he had received from a friend whom was struggling with finding enjoyment in life as his health diminished. Paddy and I talked about growing old, becoming ill and dying.
“You know,” Paddy said, his eyes clear and alive though his body was ravaged by cancer, “There’s so much I still enjoy in life everyday: taking a walk on a bright, clear day; reading a good book; going to mass; sitting here talking to you and having a cup of coffee; taking a bite out of a crisp, juicy apple. There’s just so much.”
Paddy died very peacefully a couple weeks later. I hold that image of him biting into a crisp, juicy apple – fully present in the moment – fondly in my thoughts. Here was a man destined to die in prison, far from loved ones, finding bits of bliss all around. If only we could be so present in our lives.
Thank you so much Paddy for teaching me how to be nobly vigilant in life and in death.