Living with ALS: ROMEO’s breakfast club honoring the fragility of life
CHARLOTTE, NC, January 7, 2018 — At the stroke of midnight each December 31st, we forget the fragility of life and celebrate its robustness. The world turns a new page and for a few brief moments, wherever you may be, there is universal optimism. New Year’s promises a new beginning. A fresh start.
It is a time of renewal and hope. Of eternal life.
Imagine my surprise when on the morning of January 2nd of the brand new year when my friend Scott called. I immediately knew something was wrong. I knew because Scott never calls me. We meet for breakfast. We don’t chat on the phone.
It’s rather like hearing the phone ring after midnight. Nothing good ever happens after midnight.
I. The fragility of life
For as long as I can remember a bunch of guys has met at a local restaurant for breakfast. Rain or shine, weekdays, weekends, holidays, summer or winter, it has been an amorphous eclectic group of chaps from every walk of life.
Over the years we have had doctors, lawyers, salesmen, dentists, entrepreneurs, teachers, preachers and others from virtually every walk of life. Over time, we have outlived four restaurants, and we’re now working on the fifth.
Names and faces have changed with the passing of time. There have been mergers from other spots around town, but the number has always ranged between 10 and 15. On some days, people may drop in to make guest appearances, but the regulars come and go according to whatever their particular agenda is for the day.
Our group is not unique. There are similar breakfast clubs everywhere in the world where guys get together to solve the world’s problems, talk politics or sports, tell lies and generally misinform each other to the highest degree possible. You have to have a thick skin to belong because nobody is going to cut you any slack. But there is no question about the loyalty of the friendships.
Other regulars in different sections of the restaurant call us the ROMEOs (Really Old Men Eating Out), a phenom recognized by AARP
II. The Fragility of Life
So when Scott called me, I knew something was amiss.
“Just wanted to let you know that Jim died last night,” said Scott somberly.
After a long pause, I asked,
“You mean, Big Jim? No knees Jim? Football Jim? Sports fan Jim? Hunter Jim? That Jim?”
Scot’s reply is that it happened quickly.
“Pancreatitis. He said he was feeling bad, went to the emergency room, checked in and then he was gone. That’s all I know.”
I, like all of the others in our group, was stunned. Jim was only 61. He was overweight but other than that he had never shown any signs of ill health except for having one of his knees replaced. He was not on the Breakfast Club’s short list.
No 1: My friend Scott, who was a top-notch tennis player, has been battling cancer for nearly three years. In fact, in the summer of 2015 Scott went to play in a tournament in Alabama and came home feeling extremely tired. He went to the doctor, had tests done and was diagnosed with cancer. The medical team gave him 6 to 9 months to live, but the ensuing chemotherapy treatments, though harsh, have apparently extended his life by a couple of years.
No. 2: Another member of our group has been battling throat cancer for a similar period of time and, he, too, is still joining the gang between chemo sessions when he feels up to it.
No. 3: My ALS diagnosis makes me #3 on our macabre watch list.
So we three all sit in awe of the guys who are older than us who are still able to fight the good fight and live each day to the fullest.
III. THE FRAGILITY OF LIFE
Jim’s passing still resonates days later. He was filled with life. He loved to analyze the Carolina Panthers games each Monday and just talk about football, pro, and college, or sports in general.
Our zombie table has become so battered that the restaurant has special menus, with a skull and crossbones pictured on the front, for us. Yes, macabre.
As Scott so accurately pointed out on the phone,
“I thought it would be me or you or Dave before Jim would ever go. Just goes to show you how fragile life really is.”
The word “fragile” struck me in the heart like an arrow.
Later that afternoon, I went to my computer to see if there was any further information about Jim and saw multiple e-mails from high school classmates in my inbox. I knew it couldn’t be about Jim because he was ten years younger and went to a different high school.
As I began reading the messages, I immediately learned that a high school classmate had died on the same day as Jim after a prolonged battle with cancer. She had been a cheerleader and everybody knew and loved her for her outgoing personality.
As with many high school friends, time passes and Sherry was no longer part of my life. In recent years, however, some in our class have renewed old friendships. Among them were more than enough people who had not lost touch with Sherry to bring her passing full circle.
IV, Respecting the Fragility of Life
So often we forget how quickly it can be taken away from us, which, in its own way is probably a good thing, provided we can just slow down and savor the time we have left.
I remember years ago hearing of a friend in London who passed suddenly. My response was,
“I didn’t know he was dead, I just thought he was British.”
Tomorrows disappear. We have no way of knowing how many remain. All we really know is that each day in the present dissolves into the past, hopefully leaving us cherished memories and the ability to enjoy them.
Psalm 89:47 of the “New International Version” (NIV) of the Bible says, “Remember how fleeting is my life.”
Psalm 90:12 of the same version follows with, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Sleep well, Jim and Sherry. Your lives made a difference and we will miss you.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up