This morning, I went to visit one of my best friends in the hospital. She was being treated in a room beside two other patients. The man in the bed next to hers was fervently reading through the Globe and Mail. He was joking with the nurses about being okay with his treatment because he was in the presence of beautiful women, smiling at the nurse and then at my friend and I. We shared a laugh.
He had some tubes running through his arms attached to bags of blood hanging from the metal pole beside him. It was far from glorious. He seemed unbothered. He flipped a page and delved a little deeper into the “Report on Business.”
His name is Stan and he is my stranger of the day.
He studied electrical engineering at the University of Manitoba. He reads through the business section to learn more about finance, as he never really learned about it in school but thinks everyone should know a bit about how it works. He worked for many years as an engineer, in places from Connecticut to Toronto to Southampton in Europe. He paused, looking fondly into the distance when he spoke of Southampton. “Living there was so lovely”, he said.
Eventually I asked him why he was in the hospital. He explained that he was diagnosed with a disease characterized by low haemoglobin levels. As a result, he finds himself tired a lot, at a loss for energy to do even the simplest of tasks. Every couple of weeks, Stan has to go to the hospital for a blood transfusion.
“That must take a lot for energy out of you”, I said, trying to empathize for his situation.
“Actually”, he said, “it gives me my energy back!”
He acknowledges that he’ll have to continue with treatment for the rest of his life, but he’s okay with that. “I have the time for this now”, he said. “I’m retired, I’m not busy. It’s not that bad.”
I commended his attitude, but he said it was nothing worth recognition. “There’s no use in feeling sorry for yourself”, he said. “Take a look upstairs at the spinal ward and those people have real problems”, he said. Sure, going in for treatment every other week isn’t the most pleasant thing. But it’s nothing to complain about, he explained.
I asked him about what he likes to do in his free time. After he retired, he took up boating. He loves being out on the water but eventually he found it to be quite painful. He had a pinched nerve. “We had to sell the boat”, he said. I asked him who “we” was, and he told me a bit about his wife. Now, he spends most of his time reading and doing household tasks. He’s been thinking a lot lately about getting involved in a new activity. He says he’d really like to volunteer.
I asked him what advice he would give a person who wants to live a good life.
“What do you mean by a good life?” he asked. “A wealthy life? A happy life?”
“Whatever a good life means to you”, I said.
“–a happy life”, he decided.
He continued. “The most important thing you can do to live a happy life is to find a good partner — someone who cares about you and your happiness, and who supports you. And then there are many things I could say in addition to this but if there’s only one thing, it’s this.”