Heavy subject, eh? I'll try to keep it light, though.
In my blog entry about the Rocky Mountain 1200k, "Survival of the Fattest," I mentioned my friend Josh. I do all of my really hard rides wearing a blue bracelet, similar to the infamous yellow "Livestrong" ones. The bracelet says: "Josh: But I get up again."
Josh would have been 15 yesterday.
When he was nine months old, Josh was diagnosed with cancer - rhabdomyasarcoma - and they had to remove his bladder, prostrate, and seminal vesicles. Can you imagine that? Being a kid that young and having stuff cut out? I don't even like to try to imagine being the parent of that kid. It gives me the willies.
But Josh survived it. The doctors built him a new bladder, somehow, and he went through all the things that most every other kid goes through - crawling, walking, running, falling down, and getting back up again. He started school and did homework (usually) and got crushes and climbed trees and fell out of them, and got back up again. And, although he didn't have cancer any more, he got sick a little more often than others and would have to hassle with stuff that most other kids didn't - such as spending weeks at a time in a hospital bed and having tubes running into places that tubes aren't supposed to go and sometimes getting infections from all of this stuff and those tubes and getting sick all over. There were lots of things he couldn't eat and some stuff that he had to eat that tasted horrible - yes, even worse than steamed squash - and times that he couldn't eat anything at all. But he kept on being a kid and ignoring the hassles as best as he could and doing all the usual kid stuff like playing hide-and-seek and video games and running around and around and around.
We first met Josh when we lived in Tampa in 2001. I never thought of him as a sick kid. Like most people, when you met him you thought of him as just a kid, usually running around and around and around. When you talked to him you thought he was a really mature kid, because you probably thought he was younger than he was because he was a little small for his age. And sometimes you might notice that he had a small messenger bag - probably a book bag, right? - and you later found out that it wasn't a messenger bag. But you definitely did not think of him as sick.
And then you would hear that he was the Honorary Chairman for the Relay for Life for two years in Tampa, and you would be surprised when you found out he was a cancer survivor. Then you might hear the whole story and be really stunned. Josh, the little kid with all the energy? They removed what?!
The randodaughter attended one of the Relay for Lifes (Lives?), and she and Josh and some other kids spent the entire night running around a high school football field with people walking on the track all night to raise money for cancer research and bring awareness to the disease. I came to pick the randodaughter up about 9 am the next morning and she looked much more tired than Josh did. We couldn't leave for another hour because she and Josh and I had to beat some students from University of South Florida in a "mini-Olympics" event ... you know, where you see who can jump up and down on one foot longer and that kind of thing. We won.
Josh passed away in late 2005, right after the randowife and randodaughter and I moved to Tennessee. University Community Hospital, where the randowife and I worked with Josh's mom and dad, Liz and James, still hosts a Caring Bridge site for Josh. There, you can read hundreds of comments from the people that knew and loved Josh. It is, literally, stunning just how much of an impact that a kid - who only spent 12 years on this planet - could have made in the lives of so many people.
Which brings us back to the topic of mortality.
Our time here is short - shorter than it should be for some people - so it's what we do with that time that matters. If we do things that make the world a better place - even if it's just living life as large as you can in spite of being small - then we inspire others. Josh inspired me to finish a 1200K. Someday, hopefully, the randodaughter will tell her grandchildren about me, and how I used to ride these ridiculously long distances on a bicycle, and maybe they will be inspired to do something hard just for the challenge of it. She may not remember that it was Josh that inspired me to do these things, but the effect will be there and Josh will continue to live on.