Tuesday, December 8, 2009

cousin Alan

On Saturday I received an e-mail telling me that my cousin Alan had only a short time to live. Alan had come to Boston a few years ago for special treatment available here. For a while thereafter he was cancer free. Then we heard he would be going to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant. There were two unsuccessful transplants and now he is home.

Alan is six years my senior and the oldest among my 11 first cousins. One of my earlier recollections is of attending his bar mitzvah and being taken by the event. There he was standing on some sort of stage speaking a language that was very alien to me. He, as always, smiled through it. I liked the hors d'oeuvres I remember, but was sobered by the stunning message that a relative relayed telling me that soon I would be doing the same thing. This dulled the taste of the appetizer as I could not imagine speaking this foreign language in front of all these people. Alan did not seem fazed by it all. Smiling throughout.

That was, in fact, how he went through life--apparently unfazed and smiling. Even when he was taking high doses of radiation in Boston, and I asked him how he was doing, he would always say, "I'm fine. I'll be fine." Always with that smile.

Alan may have only been six years older, but he seemed a dozen years ahead in terms of maturity. He went to med school three years into college, became a physician, and soon established a successful orthopedic practice in South Florida. He became, without complaints, the family member to whom family went when they needed medical help. It did not matter how long it had been between social visits, pick up a phone and give him a call and he'd give you all the time you needed. If he didn't know the answer he had a friend who would.

Alan literally saved my life. I called him once when I could not walk. I was in Florida and something just had gone wrong. His office was filled. but he called me back within the hour and told me to stop by his office after 5. I did and he checked me out. Then he called in a friend. Then I was in the hospital. A friend did the surgery and Alan checked in on me every day. One day he noticed something and told me not to do the exercises that had been prescribed. He called another physician in, and an examination revealed that I had thrown a clot during surgery. Had I exercised as prescribed a tragedy could have occurred. Instead he saved my life, by being vigilant and loving, when he was working 14 hour days in the hospital.

You could never pick up a check when you were out with my cousin unless somehow you got to the waiter and slipped a credit card out before the bill hit the table. If you were in town, he invited you to dinner, to his home, to the Miami Heat game. I have never met anyone more generous.

And now, I read an e-mail that indicates that he has only days to live.

In sport, there is always another day, another down, another game, a redo. My cousin Alan is out of downs. It is tough to find something positive from this, but all of us who have experienced death to loved ones, can only take away from such things that the time we have is precious and using that time for joy and to make a meaningful impact is our gift to ourselves and our world.

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