Life is filled with serendipity. Paraphrasing Forrest Gump “…It is a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get…..”
Along those lines, I was most fortunate to fall into an irreverent, eclectic group of people when taking the scary step of moving to Pittsburgh to attend, and subsequently work at, Carnegie Mellon University.
Our collective predilection was to roll up our sleeves, work ridiculously hard, and then play even harder.
During that time, I developed a lifelong friendship with a uniquely gifted engineer who managed several research and teaching labs. He was simultaneously rude, crude, funny as heck, humble, and one of the classiest people I have ever met. Over the years, we laughed a lot and did some really zany things!
For example, one New Year’s Eve, my friend called at about 5 PM and said he would put my wife and me up if we attended a party at his place. Of course, we said yes and promptly drove 300 miles across two states to get there! We arrived just before midnight and along with 40 other people, danced all night to Devo, New Wave, and who knows what else! True to his word, he covered our hotel and breakfast.
My friend’s sardonic, off-beat outlook also brought new meaning to “hands-on” experiential engineering education. In a previous post, I talked about his nationally recognized “humorous engineering 101” class. One example assignment involved student teams designing and building Monty Python-themed trebuchets that could float, carry a 6’-6” 300 pound instructor, and toss a 20+ pound concrete cow really far. Of course, my friend wore a cow suit and bovine-horned helmet to play his part in boarding the craft, arming the trebuchet and launching the cow.
For all of his lunacy, however, my friend deeply touched thousands of lives through his big-hearted acts. In one instance, one of his students was going to have to drop out for lack of funds only to find their tuition bill had been mysteriously paid by an “anonymous” donor.
In another, a young student’s father unexpectedly passed away and my friend really stepped up to help her deal with that.
More recently, when I was fundraising for leukemia research, he contributed handsomely and set up an auto-pay with no end date. He called me “Superman” for riding as far as I do and said I can count on him for forever.
I could go on for hours about how he touched people, but you get the point
Late this past August, cancer took my friend away. He had recently started on a new immunotherapy, and I had real hope given the efficacy of these new approaches.
But now he is gone, just like that. Although the world is indeed poorer, my friend would want people to focus on the difference he made. True to form, he also made sure that nobody would make a fuss about his passing.
As somebody who is living with an incurable cancer, albeit slow growing, it is sobering that I could easily be the next person whose number comes up. Given its slow grind and the hope created by new therapies, it is easy to forget that CLL is still cancer and every bit as deadly.
So now for that aforementioned call for action. For all of the advances in this field, cancer continues to take people away. And equally regrettably as a consequence, many remembrances like this one continue to be painfully written as a brutal reminder that cancer plays for keeps. As my friend would do, we need to continue rolling up our sleeves, work hard to defeat cancer, and play harder wherever possible.
Please find a way to make a difference and when you do, act meaningfully on that. Even the smallest step gets us that much closer to our collective goal.
Please share your thoughts in the comments box about how you are making a difference.
Thank you for reading!
Always hope. Never quit.
– C.J. Chris