Lesson from a Friend

Dr. Stanley T. Wearden

Dear Members of the Methodist University Community,

Meet the new year; same as the old year.

With apologies for appropriation to Pete Townshend and The Who, don’t we all feel that way sometimes? We placed so much hope in the new year, so much belief that things would be different in 2021. Yet, here we are again, masked up, distancing ourselves, washing our hands all the time. Here we are again, hoping things will be different or “normal” at some point in the future. Or worse, simply trying to pretend that COVID-19 is over, and we can do whatever we want. Where’s the change 2021 promised? When can we live again?

Reflecting on these questions has taken my memory to a couple of places. First, I thought of one of my best friends. Gary, who also was an academic colleague, was in the prime of his life when he was diagnosed with small-cell cancer. He was basically told that chemotherapy could make the cancer a chronic disease for a few years but that the disease could not be cured and would eventually kill him. He was suddenly thrust into a new reality. His definition of normal life and his plans for the future were turned upside down.

Gary had decisions to make about how he would respond to cancer and how he would respond to life. He opted for the chemotherapy treatments, which he received several times over the next six or so years before he died. But it’s the decision Gary made about life that changed my perspective. Instead of giving up, or hoping things would somehow get back to “normal,” Gary seized the day. He worked with two colleagues to design a course called International Storytelling and took students all over the world over the next six years – China, India, Brazil, Estonia, South Korea – more than 100 students in all. He traveled to other destinations with his wife, learned how to make beautiful fountain pens (I have two of them), and continued to perfect his photography and woodworking. Gary embraced his new reality, with full knowledge of its implications, and decided to find new meaning in a changed life.

I miss Gary, but I am so grateful for the lesson he taught me. It’s not about the length of life or how well life conforms to our wish-definition of “normal.” It’s about what we do and in what spirit during the finite years we are given and under the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

My memory also went to a message I sent you last spring. I mentioned Victor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning, wherein he talks of his experiences in a German labor camp in World War II and the fact that those who survived it best psychologically and spiritually were those who found meaning in that reality and in that time. I wrote, “Meaning comes, moment by moment, from how we decide to behave in the only time that actually exists – the present.”

We all wish things could be different now. That we could attend sporting events, hang out with friends without masks, go to restaurants and movies – all the things we loved doing so much just one year ago. But we are not there yet. We will do best if we, like my friend Gary, can seize the day – this day, not the one we wish for, or hope for, or try to pretend we are in – and discover what opportunities exist for growth, for learning, and for joy in this particular reality. We will not get these days back in another form. We will not get the opportunity to relive them. So, what will we make of this time? In the context of all the constraints and frustrations of this place in reality, how will we find meaning?

Let’s all try to help each other with this. We have to do what we have to do to get through this pandemic. It’s all listed on the Forward Together web site. But, let’s try to help each other find ways to make these days count in our lives. Let’s ensure that our progress truly is both forward and together.

On a final, more operational note, it is very important that we report on our Green Screen health monitoring app every single day and remain vigilant in following all the safety guidelines on the Forward Together site. Green Screen reporting has dropped off lately, and we need to recommit to using that app. It is one of the best tools we have for monitoring and containing COVID-19 on our campus.

Sincerely,

Stanley T. Wearden, Ph.D.
President