Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Seventeen Percent

Six years ago, I was working at a Mexican restaurant in Athens and happened upon a new friend. Isaias was a 22 year old Colombian working towards a science degree - Biology or Genetics maybe, something far outside my realm of understanding - so that he could eventually go to Emory to pursue their MD/PhD program. It's important you know he's smarter than you and me both probably, and super driven and focused. A man with a plan. And incredibly interesting, helpful and nice, all desirable qualities for a new friend you get to spend weekends and evenings with while serving chips and taking orders for "cheese sauce" and margaritas. And I was happy to know him.

But there was this other, less important thing about him, too. A thing so inconsequential and far from defining to Isaias as a person that I wish it weren't a part of this story. This friend of mine, dear Isaias, had cancer. Stage four melanoma to be exact, and it had basically spread throughout his entire body over the course of two years. Isaias told me rather quickly upon our first meeting that he had a less than 17% chance of survival, but he certainly was going to be in that 17%. And when someone tells you they're in that 17%, you believe them and forget the whole cancer thing even exists. Because it's easy to look past something that doesn't matter.

About six months went by from the time I first met Isaias until the summer. He turned 23 and was in and out of work between his treatment and surgeries, but it never got him down. A few days after each chemo session, he would pop back into La Cazuela, energy anew, and get right back to slinging cheese dip and fajitas with us. His hair was gone, but that didn't matter. He wore his glasses because he said his contacts made him look sick with his lack of eyebrows, but they were nice glasses and I had pegged him as a glasses guy.

When summer rolled around, cancer reared its ugly head and things took a turn for the worse for my dear friend. A bump in the road, I thought. But then treatment stopped. And following that, Isaias no longer worked at the restaurant. Medicines got stronger and physical changes and pains began for Isaias and his body was tired.

I visited Isaias one last time after returning from a brief trip to Guatemala. "They had Pollo Camperos everywhere!" I excitedly shared with a sleepy Isaias, the same Isaias who had once recounted his love for the greasy Latin American fast food chain. His eyelids were heavy and his alertness fading, so I vowed to bring photos from my trip on my next visit. But there was no next visit with a present Isaias. The next time I saw him was at his funeral where friends and family gathered to say 'see you later' to someone much loved.

It's interesting how God does that, brings people into your life if only for a short time. Like a wind that rushes through unexpectedly and blows your paper away and out of reach. You didn't see it coming and you're left searching for that paper, or in life, the piece of you that seemed to go away with that person. You wonder if it would be better to have never known that person, never met that friend. But the answer is always no. Because of course I loved knowing Isaias, even if just for six months. And in the end, all he needed was six months to profoundly impact my views on life and love and friendships.

Isaias, you were a little part of my life who made an impact on me in a big way. I don't think of you every time this year. I think of you far more often than that and I am happy to call you a friend.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post!
    Let your gentleness be evident to all. (Philippians 4:5)