ON MY MIND: Lessons on perspective

On My Mind | Maureen Burns

The other day I am working in my office and I see my friend, Carl Barberi, walking around the lake with his wife and daughter. Carl and Alison have done this regularly for years so that is not the surprise. The surprise is that Carl had just had brain surgery in Detroit a few days before.

I yelled out to cheer him on, even though he didn’t need it, and he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up.

I went back in and thought of what an example Carl is. How many of us think we should go for a walk or should do this or that – and for all kinds of lame reasons, we never do it? We never get up off our butts to do all we can with this gift we have called life.

You see, Carl, is battling a rare form of brain cancer and because of that, his priorities are clearly in order.

Recently I heard a lady speak at Aquinas. She was talking about how she had had a stroke and was sharing her recovery process. She said, “I looked up to God and said, ‘OK, God, you got my attention!’ “

Perhaps that is the problem with the rest of us. Life is daily and we take it for granted and it hasn’t gotten our attention yet.

I talked about this with my brother-in-law, Mike Devereaux, who has just reached almost four years of recovery from stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Mike said, “Cancer is a taker. It takes all kinds of things from you, but it is also a giver. It gives you opportunity. I was given the opportunity to become more — more of a husband, father and friend. I choose to take those opportunities.”

Today, this moment, now, is the most precious thing we will ever own. All the world’s wealth can’t buy it. It is a pure gift from God to each of us. We each get our own very special gift of life to be used however we choose.

In the routine of life, people often put lids on themselves. They do this by avoiding risks, being afraid, saying no to positive opportunities, staying in their comfort zones.

This gift of life is terminal. None of us get out alive. We also have no idea when our time will be up. As an old country song by Billy Dean says, “‘Cause we’re only here for a little while . . . “ Like it or not, there is no greater truth.

I am always struck by the fact that there are no funeral hearses with U-hauls behind them. We go out alone. We leave all our “stuff.” Most of us will leave to do lists undone.

Carl shared thoughts with me. “This is a time where family and friends are much more important to me. I have a strong belief in God. Living with existing illness that may lead to one’s death makes me much more appreciative of the actions in life that are connected to friendships and learning. We all hope for ourselves and our family to keep moving forward in life for goodness and with kindness. We all want to move in a direction that is positive and makes a difference.”

A friend added, “We all have to deal with the cards we are dealt. Being prepared helps us as we enter all the different periods we go through in life. We have to adjust to the new normals in our lives.”

My friend, Amy Homich, put it in different words. Amy is a breast cancer survivor and her beautiful little daughter is a cancer survivor, also. Maddie had leukemia when she was 22 months old and just celebrated her 7-year cure date. Amy’s words of wisdom are, “You need to put on your big girl pants and just deal with it!” Amy’s great sense of humor only adds to her wise perspective. I find I often am helped by her words.

As I watch my friends that face tough times like these, I am inspired by their positive attitudes, their strong faith in God and their clear perspective on what is important in life. They give us an opportunity to examine how we live our lives and to learn from them.

Perhaps on a warm sunny day soon, you can go for a quiet walk with yourself and think about these things. As Mike reminds us, no matter what, we are all also given opportunity. We need to choose to take the opportunities.

I will close by one of my favorite poems by Horace Mann.


“Lost Today”

Somewhere between sunrise and sunset

One 24 hour, 24 carat golden day

Each hour studded with 60 diamond minutes

Each minute studded with 60 ruby seconds.


But don’t bother to look for it,

Because it’s gone forever

That wonderful golden day,

I lost today.


After I finished this column, I went to have dinner with a friend from Canadian Lakes. She is in the midst of chemotherapy for stage 3 cancer. What she told me just seemed to follow the above poem. She said, “I just live for today. I get up every day and think, ‘what a beautiful day’, and then I think of all my many blessings. I work on my relationship with God and I stay positive.”

The present is where she chooses to consciously live. And, really, shouldn’t we all be doing that? The past is done and the future isn’t here. Living positively for today — that’s the ticket.

Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is maureenburns@maureenburns.com.

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