Joe was fifty-nine years old when he was admitted to hospice with terminal lung cancer. Joe was born and raised in the small river town of New Boston, Ohio. Joe was very intelligent, with a heart of a student, the product of God-given abilities and a nurturing mother, Ella.
Ella was present when I arrived for one of my many home visits and she reflected, “I started reading to Joe when he was real little, like all parents do. I started reading adult books to him when he was around five, Jack London books; ‘ The Call of the Wild’, mostly adventure books. I would read ahead to see if there was anything inappropriate that he wouldn’t understand, and I would skip it. It was the adventure that he liked. He went through a phase in highschool when he wanted to be like the other kids. He didn’t want to be called an egghead, so he didn’t study very hard, but he still got good grades. There was a group of kids at the highschool who were really smart, but they just didn’t want anybody else to know. He really wanted to be an artist and a writer. I told him, ‘You do what you want to do. Someone else can’t run your life for you.’ “
Because of chance and circumstance, Joe never pursued writing or art as a vocation. After highschool Joe worked at the nearby atomic energy plant for about a year. He then enlisted in the Air Force, where, his mother stated, “He went from one school to the other”, receiving extensive training in electronics. He even worked on the Gemini Space Project for McDonald-Douglas. Joe returned to the atomic energy plant after discharge from service and worked there until disabled by his cancer.
Joe may not have been a published writer or artist, but that passion and dream never died, it was just diverted. Joe graciously showed me a sample of his drawings. He told me about a correspondence course he completed in writing and he allowed me to read some of his completed assignments. Finally he invited me to read the draft of a fictional novel he was working on.
Paul Tournier, in his book, “The Adventure of Living” wrote, “The instinct for adventure may be cloaked, smothered and repressed, but it never disappears from the human personality.” He described the “impulse for adventure” as a wave that we ride until it exhausts itself, and when it does, we must find another one. It’s the ride, the journey, that’s exciting, not reaching the shore.
I’ll close with a story about my friend, Jerry. Jerry called me several years ago to bounce a life long dream off me. Jerry was in his forties at the time. He shared, “I’ve been thinking about going to racing school in Atlanta. I’ve rode motorcycles all my life but I’ve always wondered whether or not I’m good enough to compete…some people think I’m too old to start now. Most racers usually start racing when they’re really young, but what do you think?” I responded, “You never know what you can do until you try. So the question is ‘Can you live without ever knowing?’”
Well, Jerry went to racing school, and not only was he good enough to compete; over time he qualified for the Grand National road racing championships at “Road Atlanta” and placed sixth in the nation in his class. Afterward Jerry and I reflected on his accomplishment and I commented, “Its true isn’t it, you really don’t know what you can do until you try.” Then Jerry totally eclipsed my worn-out cliché when he replied, “No Loren, it’s more than that. You really don’t even know who you are until you try”.
Who knows, there may be an unpublished book, an unpainted picture, an unwritten song, an idea for improvement, a lifelong dream lying dormant inside us. And, like with Jerry, the question before us is, “Can we live without ever knowing?”
“People are like turtles; they don’t move forward until they stick their necks out.”
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525