Here's a fact.
When I was part of an exercise group and had a commitment to go out running every Saturday morning, I was inspired to do it. It's a little more difficult when I don't have someone actually waiting for me, looking for me, physically running alongside me and cheering, "We're amazing! We're running when we could be sleeping!"
Yet whenever I start thinking about how my life is so full and busy and I just don't have time to exercise, I think about my Uncle Bill. And I am inspired to find it in me, to do something. Anything. Even if that "anything" involves doing 10 push-ups or sit-ups for a minute.
My Uncle Bill is married to my Aunt Grace, who is my mother's
Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill have lived in South Carolina for the past 40 years. They live out in the country on several acres of land and when I was a child growing up, they always had horses. There was a big lake in the back yard, tractors to ride, kittens and dogs to play with and barns to stomp around in. Because there always something for a kid to do, as far as I was concerned, their house was heaven on earth.
In the summer of 1979, my sister Eileen and I flew to South Carolina to visit my Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill. On the day that we were due to fly back to Massachusetts, the call came from my mother that she was leaving my father and she was planning to drive down to South Carolina with my brother, Wally. Instead of us flying back home, we stayed with my Aunt Grace's family and a few days later - were joined by my mother and brother.
Within a few months, my sister decided to fly back to Massachusetts to finish high school. But for the next year, my mother, brother and I lived with my Aunt Grace and my Uncle Bill and four of their five children. In their house. In the country.
Even though this was an extremely tumultuous phase in my life, I have so many warm memories from that time. I have warm memories of my mother moving out and establishing her own home, and the extremely close relationships that I forged with my Aunt's family. I have warm memories of my Uncle Bill, who rarely called me by my name and instead, always called me "Dear."
They became my family - closer to me even than some of my own siblings.
We chose the name William for our first son, largely because that is his father's name, but also, to recognize and honor my Uncle Bill. My father was absent for much of my life - but my Uncle Bill was there. He was a devoted husband and father and a good role model for what a man should be for his family. When my brother Wally had his twin boys, he named one of his sons William, as a direct tribute to my Uncle Bill.
To say he has had a profound impact on our lives, would be an understatement.
Three and a half years ago, late one Friday afternoon in June, I received a call from my mom where she told me that my Uncle Bill had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. It had metastasized and the prognosis was not good. He was given at most, three months to live.
This news rocked my mother and I could only imagine how traumatized his own family must have felt. Here was a man who had never smoked and had lived as healthily of a life as anyone I've ever known. I wanted to call him, but I didn't. I didn't know what I would say and I was so afraid that I would breakdown and he'd be the one to console me.
The following Tuesday he was scheduled for a very risky operation and there were concerns that he might not even survive that. Uncle Bill had always been such a pillar of strength to everyone in his life. And everyone was devastated.
I don't know what came over me.
Probably the Holy Spirit.
But I really wanted for Uncle Bill to meet our children. When he was 10 years old, his mother had given birth to spontaneous triplets (two girls and a boy), so Uncle Bill would fondly recall the "triplet craze" that he himself had experienced. He has told me many a story about people actually lining up to see his siblings, circa 1940.
So I called an airline, booked flights and Charlie and I were on a plane flying to South Carolina three days later with our eight-month old triplets. Nobody knew we were coming. It was a spur of the moment, complete surprise. I called my mother before we boarded our flight and asked if she could pick us up at the airport and maybe rent a pack-n-play or two.
When we arrived in South Carolina, we drove straight out to my Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill's house. His surgery was scheduled for the following morning and it was very important for me to see him. The babies were asleep in their carseats, so we lined all three of the carseats up on the front door step and rang the doorbell, before disappearing in to the bushes.
My Aunt Grace opened the door and I remember Uncle Bill was a few steps behind. When they saw the babies on their doorstep, they exclaimed, "What is this? Oh My God. What is THIS?" And I chirped up, "Charlie and I really need to get away for a few days. Would you mind watching them?"
There are a few moments in life that are so epic, so awesome, so great - I wish I had them on video so that I could go back and replay them over and over.
This was one of those moments.
For the first time since Uncle Bill had received his diagnosis - everyone was smiling. There was an impromptu party. Cousins were called. A big dinner was cooked. Although the impending surgery that was scheduled the next day was on everyone's mind ... the infant triplets from California were a happy distraction.
That night, I told my Uncle Bill that I loved him. I told him that I was so appreciative of all the things that he had done for me when I was a child, living in his home. I was so appreciative that he took me and my family in and that he made us feel so welcome. I was so appreciative of all the advice and direction he provided me as I grew older. I told him that I thought his children were blessed and lucky to have them as their devoted father. And I was lucky that my Aunt married such a wonderful man - providing me with such a great Uncle. He was a man that always made me feel special - always made me feel like I was one of his own. He was a man that had great class and an enthusiasm for life and family that was contagious.
The following day I prayed and prayed.
And then, the phone rang.
Uncle Bill called immediately after his surgery. When I was talking with him on the phone, his voice was groggy but he was filled with excitement. He wanted to tell me that when they gave him anesthesia, he vividly could see our babies. All three of them. Before he went under they were there, as soon as he came out, they were there. They were with him during his risky operation. The whole time, he could feel their presence.
"Those beautiful babies were with me, Dear. They are my Guardian Angels. Thank you for bringing them to me."
Summer turned to fall.
Fall to winter.
Winter to spring.
Spring to summer.
Another year went past.
Despite the odds and what the doctors predicted, we have seen Uncle Bill several times since June of 2005. We visited with him in New England once and have seen him twice more in South Carolina. Whenever I call to talk with my Aunt Grace and Uncle Bill answers the phone, I am guaranteed at least two hours of good conversation with a man who I absolutely adore.
When I spoke with him two weeks ago, he told me that when his doctors initially told him that he didn't have much longer, he told them that they have their work cut out for them, because he has a lot of things left to accomplish in his life. He also said that he thinks that perhaps he is too dumb to know any better. He's not paying attention to the statistics or the odds. He's just living his life, the best he can and loving his family as much as possible.
He said that his "secret" to success is that he always has something happening. He always has something to look forward to. He told me that as soon as he completes one thing - he doesn't dwell on that which has been done, but instead, is busy moving on to the next thing.
He does not get hung up on that which has already passed.
His other "secret" to success is that he exercises.
Almost every day, he exercises.
In the past three and a half years, Uncle Bill has undergone more than 100 chemotherapy treatments. He has outlasted his oncologist's wildest predictions. He said that whenever he undergoes chemo, he brings a notebook and pen and will jot down things that he has to do next. He recently finished construction on my cousin Margaret and her husband Reiner's dream house.
Now, he has big plans for planting eight acres of grapes on his property. The revenue that is generated from selling these grapes will be used to fund his grandchildren's college tuition.
He is planning an elaborate 60-year wedding anniversary in Europe. His whole family will be there. He has invited Charlie and I and our brood to come along, too.
He is completely remodeling his garage and exercise room.
Uncle Bill is the happiest and most content person I've ever met in my entire life. He never complains. In his world, the sun is always shining. And so it should be for everyone.
When I told him that I was really undecided where we wanted to live and gosh, where was the best place he has ever lived - or where would he live if he could live anywhere - he smiled and said, "I have really enjoyed every place that I have ever lived and I know I'd be happy if I ever moved. So long as your Aunt Grace is by my side, I would be happy anywhere."
Last week, Uncle Bill went outside to feed his dog and when the dog unexpectedly jumped up and knocked him down, he fell and broke his hip.
My Aunt Grace was in the house on the phone with my mother at the time, and didn't know he had fallen. Instead of calling out for help, Uncle Bill - an extremely proud man - used his cell phone to call my cousin, Bill. He wanted to know if his son had borrowed his crutches. When Bill called back to tell his father he didn't have them, my Uncle Bill didn't mention what had happened, but instead, called my cousin, Lisa.
Eventually, it came out that he had fallen on the ground and couldn't get up. Eventually, my Aunt Grace would find out that her husband of almost 60-years was laying on the ground outside the backdoor and he didn't call for help because he didn't want to create a commotion.
Eventually, paramedics would come to the house and transport him by ambulance to the hospital where he would have a major procedure that involved placing a pin in his hip. The doctors were skeptical to perform such an operation on a man who has Stage 4 cancer, but they did it. Eventually, he will go through intensive rehabilitation so that he can walk again.
But I know he'll do it and he'll do it optimistically and cheerfully.
As he himself would say, "This is a WONDERFUL life and I have a lot to do!"
So with that segue ... how are you doing with your goals?