Two Choices

Two Choices

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Two Choices

The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.

George Eliot

I enjoy working on the oncology floor, although a lot of my colleagues find it depressing. Sure, it can be sad at times, but I don’t look at it as seeing people waiting to die, as much as seeing people who need others to see them as still living.

For several days I’d been assigned to give Bob his breathing treatments. We’d never met before but I was instantly impressed with his wit, however old his jokes might be.

Bob was what most people would call “a character.” He always had a risqué joke that made his wife groan, laugh, and punch him in the arm. Like, “Have you heard the one about the guy who says that every year for the last three years when he goes on vacation his wife gets pregnant? Yeah, so this year he’s taking her with him.” Ba-dum-bum.

He asked everyone who entered the room, “How are you today?” or, “What’s new with you?”—and then he waited for their answer. He’d never met a stranger, as my mother used to say. He was completely open about his life, showing everyone who came in the room photos of his kids and grandkids, and telling us about their latest winning game, great test score, or band concert.

He was just as open about his diagnosis. Bob had six months to live and when he informed me of this fact, he looked me right in the eye and the smile didn’t leave his face. He shrugged and said, “I’d really like to make it through Christmas. I sure like all the food the Missus cooks and having all the kids around the house.”

I couldn’t help myself; I had to ask.

“Bob, how can you be so happy all the time? I don’t mean to insult you in any way. I love it when I come in to work and see your name on my list of patients, but with your diagnosis, how do you manage to stay so positive?”

He grinned his Bob grin. “Well, it’s like this. Pretty simple. I figure I have the same two choices every single day, no matter if I’m sick or well, no matter if the doctor says I’m dying or not. I can be happy or I can be bitter, and I’m the only one who controls that.

“I also figure that, since the doctor has told me I’m dying, I still have two choices. I can either make them miss me when I’m gone, or I can make sure they’re relieved that I’m finally out of their lives. I’m still the only one who controls that too. Personally, I’d like them to miss me.”

“You’re right,” I said.

“Not only that,” he said, pointing a finger at me. “It’s not just me. You have the same two choices every day, too. You can be happy or you can be bitter. Many people think they have no control over their lives. Sure, there are many things that happen that we wish could pass us by, but we can always choose whether we’re going to be happy or bitter, and if we’re going to make our family and friends glad they know us or not. It’s simple.”

He was right about both of those things. It is that simple and we do always have those two choices.

I choose to be happy and I miss Bob.

Glenna Anderson Muse

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