April 24, 2019


My wife and I just returned from a vacation. It was beaches and palm trees for a week. First time we'd been away together in over a decade, so it was a very nice break.  The first day after a long flight, we arrived at the resort late at night, tired and hungry. There weren't really any reasonable options nearby and we were both too tired to get back in the car to go find something to eat.

Took this photo just moments before I met Jack

I opted, therefore, to Google some of the local restaurants that offered delivery and found an Italian place nearby that would bring pizza or pasta right to the front lobby of the hotel.  I quickly called-in an order.  Mercifully, it was a short wait and I ran down to the lobby entrance to meet the delivery person, stopping just once to view the sunset over the beach (photo above).

As I stood on the curb near the valet desk, a golf cart appeared decked out with the name of the restaurant I had called.  I waved it over.  A twenty-something young man jumped out, introduced himself as "Jack" (not his real name) and immediately began handing me boxes of food. I laughed and commented at what a welcome sight he was after a long trip to the resort. He asked where I was from, and then immediately launched into a friendly conversation about himself.  His broad smile and positive personality were infectious and the conversation really helped lighten my post-flight fatigue.

"I'm from Ohio," he said. "I came down here about two years ago and loved it. When I returned home, I couldn't get it out of my mind.  Then last year I had a heart attack and nearly died."  He pulled the neck of his tee shirt aside to reveal the top of a scar on his chest.  "They put in a pacemaker and I've been OK since." Without thinking, I immediately tapped my chest twice and said, "Hey, Jack, what a coincidence.  I had a heart attack two years ago and now have two stents in my heart."  He laughed, nodded, raised his fist toward me and said, "Put 'er there, brother."  We fist bumped.

Jack continued, "Being told I could die at my age was life changing for me. I decided I didn't want to wait to enjoy life. So, as strange as this sounds, I literally sold everything I had back home and came down here just two months ago.  I've been doing odd jobs and spending as much time as I can surfing and fishing. If my life doesn't last as long as I thought it might, at least I'll know that I've spent much of the time I have left doing something I enjoy."

I wished him a long, healthy life, paid him (and tipped him) for the delivery, and thanked him for sharing his story with me.  With his smile never fading, he jumped back into the golf cart and waved as he pulled away.  I stood there for a moment and thought about Jack's comments.  Hearing him say he wanted to spend as much time as he can doing something he enjoys resonated with me.

I had a cancer scare at his age. As he said, it was life-altering. I was already married with a young family at the time so surfing and spear fishing wasn't an option for me, but it did put the problems of life in perspective.  I was blessed with a full recovery, and it was a long process to get there. So the lessons I learned about taking the time to find happiness in the small moments (time spent with my wife, children and grandchildren, taking-in the views of the ocean, etc.) and living in the moment are still with me.  Every hurdle or health scare since has reinforced that attitude.

Shortly before we left our vacation, I saw surfers from the beach. I thought about Jack. I'm sure someday he'll find he wants more than the surfing life. He may choose college or a new job.  He may get married and have children.  He may opt to stay or go back home. But no matter what he does, I'll bet he'll still be smiling.  It's obvious that Jack has learned that happiness is not something given to you, but it's something you make for yourself.

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