A fortunate of us view our existence as a life well lived. Many complain when life seems unfair, yet we have never taken into account how blessed we all are.
For 25 years, I watched him fight cancer of the face.
First just a small speck that begin to grow larger. Year after year I watch him go to hospital to have a bit cut out each time. As the years went by, more and more of his face was cut away. When he returned with what is left of his face, he tried to smile. He never complained or was downhearted.
He was a skillful mechanic and carpenter. In fact, he was one of the best. Whenever he did a job, he would stand back to see if there is anything left out that could be added to make it perfect. Then he would see some little place that the average person would pass up. He would then touch up this or that.
I suspect he said this to himself: my work will be my face and my life. I doubt if he often look in the mirror at that damaged face where the cancer had eaten into every day.
No matter how humble the pace he worked in, how small the job is or how crude the other workers seem, it never bothered him at all. This was his work and it has to be done right. He never glanced at the work of others for a shoddy work done by others was not his concern.
Nevertheless, I suspect when the job was done, he had a sense of inner pride and joy when he saw how outstanding it was. But he never boasted about it.
As the years went by, he became weaker and weaker. His hands did not move with confidence and speed that so characterized him. He was unable to do many things. However no matter what the work or pay, he always had the insatiable desire to do a good job.
The help he got was not able to catch his vision. They thought he was cranky to try so hard to complete each and every detail. So he worked alone. He did not complain or bitterly rail at the others. He would just appear the next morning by himself with no explanation of the absence of his helpers.
During his final days, he had only the shambles of a face. He would wrap it up in a red bandanna handkerchief, leaving only his eyes showing.
When you met him on the streets, he would always give a cheery greeting. As time went on, it was more and more difficult to say he words. Often he would move his walking stick. This stick, too, was a thing of beauty, carved out by his skillful hands.
His life seemed to be filled with contentment and peace. I suspect that he thanked God for those hands and the fact that it was not marred in any way.
He often missed his usual haunts for weeks or months. He would make his journey to the hospital for the surgeon to cut away more of his face. Then you would see him again, a bit more gruesome. There would be no complain, no telling of his operation and pain. He would just quietly go to work that was waiting for him.
In all his time, I never knew him to come back with any complaints about the pain. You would think there was nothing the matter if you did not see his face.
When the days of his labors came to an end, his chief concern was that his tools would remain in good hands. He sent for me one day and told me he wished someone would appreciate his tools and use them properly.
When I took a young man to see him about the tools, there came a look of contentment and satisfaction. His work was finished and he was ready to leave a legacy of a life well lived.
On the day he died, I went to see him again. The odor was so offensive you could hardly stay there. What was left of his face was a mass of scars and there was really nothing to cut away. You could tell he was in great pain and had many sleepless nights, but still there were no words of complaints.
I’ll never forget his last words. Thinking of them made me ashamed whenever I feel inclined to complain. Still day after day, they are vivid in my mind: