Essay written by a senior in high school Emily Ross
I am a member of a large, tightly knit community. This community has been my support system from the moment I was born and has created a sort of bubble around me, in essence protecting me from all the harsher realities of life. Because of this, in my world of ups and downs, the downs have been relatively few. This shield has unfortunately allowed me to take each day as something that I was entitled to, instead of the gift that it is. One day last year, my perfect bubble was burst when I found out that a father of 2 in our community, a close friend of our family, was diagnosed with ALS, better know as Lou Gehrig's Disease. In my mind, when you get sick, you go to the doctor, you get medicine, and you get better. With ALS, there is no 'getting better'. You deal with it, your body deteriorates, and you die. No amount of praying was going to make this better.
I did not know how to react when this happened, so I looked to Terry's family to see how they were handling it. Expecting to see sadness and despair, I was shocked to see that there was no pity there. This man had decided that ALS was not going to define him. ALS would not decide how he lived out his remaining days. So he set out to 'live like he was dying'. He began to do things that he had always wanted to do, like scuba diving in Mexico, and watching the sun set on top of the Olympic Mountains. And as his body began to fail, he pared down his to-do list to experiences that required nothing more than his presence. Every single day that he wakes up is a gift. He is only 51 years old, and he has done more living in the past 17 months than most people do in their entire lives.
Here is a person who was fully alive and healthy, and in one hour his life became finite - the average live expectancy after diagnosis of ALS is 12 months. His reaction and decision to do it on his terms has inspired me to not take every day for granted and to live my life to the fullest. He had planned on a long life with his family, but that's not any of ours to decide. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone, so we have to live out today like it's our last because in all reality, it could be.
Terry has shown me that when life hands you adversity, you have a choice how to handle it. You can let the disease take over and decide how it's going to play out. You can give up and hide in your house and wait for the inevitable end. Or you can take it and run with it. He knows that he's dying, but he refuses to live the label. His eyes are earnest, intense, as if hanging on your every word to commit it to memory. He listens intently, asks pointed, serious questions, almost like he MUST know how you feel. Like he's always wondered, but now he needs answers. I honestly believe that when he is put in bed at night, he is exhausted emotionally as well, for there have been no insignificant interactions that day, only meaningful ones that are meant to help us heal when he is gone. He has given everything he has to make that day a special one. He cherishes the time, every single minute, because sadly his minutes are numbered.
This tragic illness has also benefited our community exponentially. We have learned what it is to truly give comfort to another human being and accept life's difficult times and move forward with them. We, as a community of faith, have rallied around this family, providing food, companionship, laughter, and much, much love. We have had the opportunity to experience it first hand along with him. We have learned compassion, patience, and how to deal with things out of our control with dignity and grace. It is an opportunity for us all to practice what we preach. And we are comforted to know that when his struggle is over, he will be in God's hands and free of this awful disease that has taken so much from him, yet given so much to us.
I consider myself fortunate to have had this man pass through my life. Just living life gets in the way and it's so easy to take your life for granted - your family, your friends, your time, every breath you take. I have been blessed to see first hand that it's not the amount of time you have, it's how you use that time. He has shown me to never waste a second or a chance to tell someone how much they meant to you, because well, you just never know.
Your words express wisdom beyond your years. In my journey there have been good days and bad days but to receive your letter allows me to solidfy my journey. In our lives we get to make decisions and if my journey can help in some small way, that allows me to understand - there is meaning...