What is adversity?
I thought I knew.
Getting crushed by an avalanche gained me a ticket into the Survivors Club. The snow broke my ribs, collapsed my lung, broke every bone in my face, including the ones I didn’t know existed behind my eyeballs, severed my ACL and left me spilling blood and gasping for air on the side of a mountain.
I thought I knew what adversity was because of the searing pain I experienced. It felt like someone was stabbing me in the back every time I hit a bump while being carried in the rescue sled down mountain.
I thought I knew about hard times because the ambulance ride took 3 ½ hours to get to the hospital. I was spitting blood all over the place, bitching, moaning, crying, and begging for random strangers to save my life.
I thought I knew about adversity because of waking up in the hospital on life support. I was unable to speak because I had a hole with a tube sticking down my throat and into my lung. My jaw was wired shut and I couldn’t scream out for help.
Three facial surgeries in seven days left eight titanium plates in my face.
Several months and several surgeries later I found myself battling depression, anger, and the worst of all—self pity.
All this led me to believe that I knew something about adversity. That I was something of an expert on the topic.
Now I don’t think I know shit about adversity.
I just got news that my friend (I’ll call him Jon) was admitted to Hospice care. Jon is transitioning to the next experience.
Jon has been battling brain cancer for 4 years. Jon knows about Adversity.
Jon is the most charismatic dude I’ve ever met. The guy had flair that came from a mixture of confidence, competence, and personality.
When I first met Jon he was a gourmet chef in Napa Valley. He was a showman. A food showman. I never gave a shit about food, but when Jon would talk, I found myself paying attention to every little detail about food that he rapped on about.
He had great showmanship with food, but one of the things that made him so interesting, is that he was also a great teacher. He made a subject I found boring, cooking, into something interesting. I loved hearing Jon talk about food (Use grapeseed oil, not olive oil! – when cooking steaks).
He taught a food and wine class every weekend.
I took my Mom to one of his classes for Mother’s Day one year. It was the best Mother’s Day gift I’ve ever gotten Mom. Maybe the best gift I ever got her. It was such a cool thing to see this guy so in his element.
I met Jon through work, we were employed at the same winery. Eventually Jon moved on to other employment. I expected to see him become a famous Chef, like the ones on the TV. I imagined he’d have his own restaurants and cookware and pots with his name on it.
Life had other plans.
Jon was diagnosed with brain cancer several months after my accident. One day my buddy showed me a picture on Facebook of this guy in a hospital bed with a horseshoe sized scar on top of his shaved head.
The guy in the picture looked lost. My buddy said, “That’s Jon.”
The look on Jon’s face reminded me of what I felt like when I was in the hospital. I visited him in the hospital the next day. He was surprised to see me. We hadn’t spoken since he left the winery. It had been two years.
I hung out with Jon and tried to listen as best I could. He was going through serious Adversity. The good news was, the doctors had caught the cancer early. They had successfully removed a golf ball sized tumor from his head. His future looked bright.
I attempted to impart some of the thoughts that had helped me during my struggle. I encouraged him to start writing. I dunno. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything and just shut up and listened. I couldn’t fathom the battle that Jon was in.
I visited him a few days later and this time I brought him a box of See’s chocolate candies. He seemed to like them. Jon was stronger than when I’d seen him before. I could see Jon’s charisma attempting to burst through the trauma of the surgery.
Unfortunately I never spoke with Jon again. I meant to but I didn’t.
Time passed. Jon left the hospital, then eventually returned to work part time. I kept up with him through a few texts and word on the grapevine. He worked when his health would permit him to.
I’m sure his work provided a welcomed distraction. He loved cooking. I doubt he ever thought of it as work.
But the news always returned that Jon was back in the hospital having another surgery or round of cancer treatment. It was brutal just to get the news of his struggle. I couldn’t imagine being the guy going through it.
Everyone was pulling for Jon. I remember there was a charity dinner held at the winery he worked at when he got diagnosed with cancer. The winery was raising money to help pay for Jon’s medical expenses.
I didn’t want to go to the dinner because it was on the weekend and it was wintertime. I wanted to go skiing.
I called up the phone number where the tickets to the dinner were being sold and I asked if I could just give them some money instead of buying a ticket. The woman on the phone was relieved that I just wanted to send money. She said the dinner was sold out but people kept trying to buy tickets.
I heard later that the charity dinner was so over sold that they were worried about getting shut down by the fire department. Apparently the fire department let them slide because they knew purpose of the event.
That’s the kind of impact Jon had on anyone that met him. There weren’t a shit ton of people at the event because Jon had cancer. There were a shit ton of people at the event because Jon had this magnetic personality that people couldn’t help but be attracted to.
Jon battled cancer. He didn’t give up.
He married his long time girlfriend, which I know made him immensely happy.
And, he taught people. There isn’t anyone that knows him, that can’t use him as motivation. If anyone that knows Jon is battling Adversity, they can pause for a moment, think of Jon, and realize that their situation isn’t as bad as they think it is, and they must persevere.
I often think of Jon when I’m bitching and moaning and life is difficult. I think of Jon and I think that I need to shut up and stop complaining. I think of Jon and I am reminded of how grateful I am to take a simple walk with my dog and enjoy the breeze.
I think of Jon and I think about how I’ve got a lot of work to do to be a better human being.
I’m sad I won’t be able to visit Jon in Hospice. I moved away from Napa to the East Coast and cannot make the trip.
I love that dude. He’s an inspiration.
I will miss Jon. I know he is going to a good place.
Be well brother.