sharonksobotta header image 1

Entries from March 2011

An Old Friend

March 22nd, 2011 · Comments

Several years ago, I became acquainted with a unique student from Saint Mary's College. The student, Cliff, was 83 years old when he returned to SMC in 2003, 85 when he graduated in 2005 and today is 90. (Although Cliff was a doctor, he had never completed his undergraduate education, because he got accepted to Harvard Medical School prior to his undergraduate graduation.) I ran into him on campus after he graduated just after my first book was published and invited him to attend my book signing at the Walnut Creek Barnes & Noble. My parents raised me to be inclusive, so even though I didn't expect him to make it, I would have regretted not inviting me. He wrote down the details about my event on a small piece of paper and put it into his wallet. When I file something into my wallet or purse, I usually don't find it again. But, sure enough, a week later, Cliff walked into Barnes & Noble and pulled the little yellow piece of paper out of his wallet. "See, I made it," he said with a smile. Cliff and I chatted for a few minutes and I felt like I made a new friend.

Weeks later, I received a hand-written letter from Cliff in the mail. A few weeks after that, he sent me a copy of 52 essays he had written for his grandchildren which he aspired to craft into a book called "Grandparents Matter." I sent him an e-mail congratulating him on his aspirations and sent him an e-interview, so I could capture a piece of his story. He printed out my questions and sent me back a combination of hand-written notes and a type written essay. It was a story about a young girl he treated when he was a doctor in Hawaii. She had inoperable cancer, but had a dream of going out for macadamia nut pancakes before she died. In short, Dr. Cliff went outside of his doctorly duties and made the girl's dream come true. As I read the story, a sea of tears flowed out of eyes and I could feel a ball in the back of my throat. It was the most touching story I ever read.

Months later, Dr. Cliff and his wife invited me out for brunch. I met the two of them in their retirement community home. Cliff's wife had just had surgery on her cheek to remove a small patch of skin cancer. On the way to the car, I mistakenly offered his wife a hand. "No thank you. I'm fine," she said to me. "Honey, come here and give me a hand please," she said to her husband in almost the same breath. Cliff staggered over to his wife's side to steady her and I got into the car quietly. As we drank bottomless glasses of Mimosas that Dr. Cliff ordered for us, I couldn't help admiring the team work between the two of them. "Honey, would you give me a hand with my steak, please?" she asked. Then Cliff got up and helped her out. On the way back to the table from the buffet bar, Cliff held his wife's hand to and I followed. As we inched by the people who were waiting to get past us, she looked up and smiled. "Are we too fast for you?" she wittily asked with a smile and a wink. After our brunch, we went back to their home and chatted for some time. I, of course, interviewed them and they shared their story about how they met, how they dated, what they grew to love most about each other and more. Afterwards, Dr. Cliff went into his garden with a clipper and cut me a fresh bouquet of flowers to take home with me.

It wasn't until today, almost a year later, that I went back to visit Dr. Cliff and his wife. Aside from knowing that the two of them are all-around amazing people that I would like to stay in touch with, I know that Dr. Cliff's life dream is to publish his book. He reached out to me with his dream and it has been killing me to know that I have not done more to help make that happen. Today when I got to the Dr. Cliff's home, his wife was relaxing on her chair and watching a documentary about Africa, while their helper sat at the table putting a puzzle together. I suggested that today was the day for us to get started on making the book happen. Dr. Cliff showed me to the computer room and brought us each a glass of wine. I opened up each of his 52 essays, copied, pasted and put them all into one huge word document. As I copied and pasted, we chatted and shared stories. Dr. Cliff wanted to make sure that I was dating, that I was up on my reading, and more. By the time I left, Dr. Cliff and I had agreed to a standing weekly work date to make his book come to fruition and he suggested a double date between for his wife, himself, me and his boyfriend--well sort of...He'll also bring his granddaughter who speaks Spanish...but it'll be fun none-the-the less. After I successfully sent myself one document with all of the essays contained inside of it, Dr. Cliff showed me a slide show and asked me to share it with other people. Frankly, when someone that I respect who is 90 years old asks me to do something, I feel like I should do it.

Before I arrived at Dr. Cliff's house this evening, I was having sort of a "poor me" day, feeling a little bit down and a little bit overwhelmed by life. By the time I left, I felt rejuvenated and humbly reminded about what is truly important in life.

Tags: Uncategorized