That particular week in 2016 had started off brilliantly. I was in San Francisco for a work conference, and it was October, which might be the most beautiful time to be in San Francisco.
A friend had traveled with me, so while I conferenced, she explored. On that particular day, I sat among thousands of others inside a giant convention center as Melinda Gates and Robin Roberts discussed leadership and women’s empowerment and chasing our dreams.
Then I decided to look at my phone. Waiting there was a text from one of my best friends: Her melanoma was back. It had been seven years. The word metastasized was there among all the other words.
The sounds around me – the motivating stories, the applause, the laughter from the audience – it all faded to a dull roar and it felt as if no one was in the auditorium but me and that text. The tears wouldn’t stop; I was never more thankful for the darkness. Questions, I had nothing but questions for her. What did the doctor say exactly? Are you alone right now? Should I catch a flight home? Have you been feeling sick and not telling anyone?
Is this it?
In sickness and in health isn’t reserved only for the betrothed. If we’re lucky in life, along the way we connect with other souls whose friendships grow to mean so much to us that even a legal ceremony – the highest form of commitment – could barely scrape the surface of defining the bond. That’s what I have with this woman. She’s beyond sister status. For the past 16 years, since we were freshmen in college, she’s been part of my soul.
This couldn’t be it.
Later that day, in between conference sessions, I paced up and down the city streets, listening to her tell me everything she knew about her situation. She had woken up that day thinking her biggest dilemma was where to have lunch after her doctor’s appointment. Now she was trying to decide what hospital in which city she should trust with her life.
Standing on the corner of Post and Kearny streets, I offered to marry her so she could use my health insurance. She laughed, and so did I, but we both knew.
The next evening, after a rough night’s sleep and a day full of conference sessions, I was headed to yet another dinner and drinks with colleagues, the idea of which sounded just awful. Then the friend I had traveled to San Francisco with called and said she was at the ocean. And that it sure was nice out there.
The sidewalk was filled with rush-hour traffic. I made my way over to the side and stood still. For the first time in my life, I asked myself: If this was your last night on Earth, how would you spend it?
In five minutes, I was sitting on the Geary Street bus headed west. It smelled of sweat and cologne and I was smashed up against the window next to someone talking loudly on their phone.
My heart soared.
A half hour later the bus was nearly empty as we reached the last stop on the route, 48th and Point Lobos avenues.
The smell of the ocean hit my face as I stepped off the bus, and I started to run down the sidewalk. Toward the Pacific, toward the incredible setting sun. Toward where my sweet friend would choose to be if she had that choice.
It would be selfish of me to say that the terrible thing that happened to my friend happened to me. But it did change me. And I haven’t asked myself, “If this was your last night on Earth, how would you spend it?” It comes naturally now. When I stand up for myself, when I say “no,” when I don’t give in to my fear, and when I say “yes.” Hell yes.
My sweet friend, by the way, is okay. Turns out, this isn’t it.
The photos I took that evening still make me cry. And I can still feel that moment when my heart and mind shifted and hear the sounds of the city that were all around me.
But I never told her about any of this. Maybe I’ll take her to San Francisco and just show her.
Abby lives in Lexington with her boyfriend Eric and their poodle Mikey. When she isn’t busy being digital marketing manager at KET, she loves travel, writing, coffee, the ocean, fishing, and biking around Lexington. There is more where this came from. Check out Abby’s blog.