How did this happen?

We see them everywhere downtown. This is Rochester, home of the world-famous Mayo Clinic. It’s common for us to see a person in a wheel chair, often sporting a tied scarf to keep a head warm. The hair was probably lost due to a difficult treatment for some medical condition. I always feel bad when I see a wheel chair pushed by a parent. The parent of a child. A young child, often not even double-digit years old. A child facing life and death. Far too soon. That kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen, but in Rochester it’s not that uncommon.

It never occurred to me that another situation would hit me even harder than a sick child in a wheel chair.

It wasn’t that many years ago that we buried my Dad and Judy’s mother. They were old. Eighties. Life had been good to them, but it was over. We hated to see them go, but that’s the way of life.

I didn’t see the next one coming.

Those of you who know me know that I spend an inordinate amount of my life wandering the halls at the Mayo Clinic, too. I’ve been lucky that my challenges responded to proper treatment. My life is good. I do what I want, when I want, and the bumps from minor medical mishaps enhance, not detract from, my life.

Until that day I was in for a routine blood test.

My doctor likes to have my blood chemistry checked a couple of times a year to make sure my meds stay balanced and there are no surprises lurking. We’ve been surprised often enough that a little preventive looking now and then seems right. This was one of those routine tests. The blood draw went well, and if everything went according to plan I’d check on the Mayo patient app to see that my blood levels were just fine. Again.

I’m slipping my jacket back on, heading out through the waiting room. Places to go. People to see. Things to do. Gotta keep moving.

Then I see him. Who’s that old man?

That face looked familiar. I paused, looking him in the eye. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of people in that waiting room at any one time, so it’s not unusual to see a doppelgänger or even a familiar face. This one looked really familiar, but not right. My friend, let’s call him Jon, wasn’t old and infirm. This apparent twin was. No just that, there was that vacant look I’d seen far too often in clinic waiting rooms. That stare into the distance when you’re looking at the end, or when it’s not clear what is ahead. That couldn’t be Jon.

Or could it?

A flash of recognition sparkled in his eyes as he saw me. His reverie broke. The bleak future wasn’t staring him down, a familiar person was there to offer a respite. Jon smiled and greeted me warmly. Then he told the story of a seemingly insurmountable medical challenge.

Although his story wasn’t that unusual, it gave us both pause to wonder at the miracle of life. How his story will ultimately unfold is unclear.

The good news: Our conversation was some years ago. We’re looking forward to talking again soon, many times.

The takeaway from that conversation: Enjoy every minute you have on this earth. Your situation could change in a heartbeat. You or I could be the one sitting in a wheelchair staring blankly at the wall.

Call me for coffee. Now.

Grandpa Guy Havelick