With Fresh Eyes

Perspective Renewed

By Rich Nelson

On July 27, I had a heart attack, collapsing on a treadmill during a stress test at a local hospital.  Several episodes of chest discomfort during my daily walks earlier that week prompted the stress test. After subsequent tests revealed major blockage in my left anterior descending artery, open heart bypass surgery was performed the following day.

Now, several weeks post-op, recovery is steady and promising. The medical staff and rehab team at Mercy Health Partners have my deepest gratitude for their professional care and comfort, giving me the opportunities that additional years will bring my way.

No family history of heart disease. Non-smoker. An attentive diet. I’ve run the Chicago and New York City marathons, backpacked the Grand Canyon and Isle Royale, canoed the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, and biked from Minneapolis to Chicago in a week’s time. I checked off all the boxes I thought necessary to avoid what occurred on July 27. Yet, here I am. And, still perplexed that this could happen.

Though, in traversing through such an ordeal, one often extracts a renewed degree of purpose in the face of life’s fragility and brevity. A resultant outcome is a new perspective on things often overlooked, taken for granted.  It sheds new light on the possibilities in front of us.  It renews one’s commitment to social and civic engagement.  In these brief few weeks, I hope I’ve begun to reassess the significance of the remaining journey ahead.

It’s an enhanced appreciation of moments.  Lately, for me, it’s been lingering with a sunset, not wanting to let go of a waning summer evening.  It was a visit from a West Coast friend during which our long-ago shared college years were revisited.  Connecting with a cousin in North Carolina, learning of her safe evacuation inland in the face of Hurricane Florence.  A calming late summer afternoon on the Lake Michigan beach with close friends.  And, a renewal of plans for community and political commitments, engagements with friends, and future travel destinations.

Warren Zevon, the rock singer and songwriter, appeared on David Letterman’s show in 2002, after learning of a diagnosis of terminal cancer that would take his life less than a year later.  Letterman, a long-time admirer of Zevon’s music, brought the musician on his show as his only guest that evening, for song and conversation.  Near the end of the hour, Letterman asked him if there was any message he wished to convey on how he was approaching his impending mortality.  Zevon replied, “Enjoy every sandwich.” It was such a simple yet profound declaration.

The late author Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. wrote a favorite book of mine during his own convalescence after a heart attack. “My Father’s House” reflects on Kunhardt’s childhood filled with “golden weekends, stars and storms, an old house upon a hill, a hero.”  That hero was his father, remembered for his goodness and the indelible impression he made on everyone around him.  Further reflecting on his father’s legacy, the author recalled the words of his mother: “Everything you’ve said or done makes a difference on other people’s lives, so that long after death you live in the world in a different form.”

We should all carry that life lesson with us, no matter our circumstances. Share yourself with others. Be the difference. And, appreciate the moment. Enjoy every sandwich.

The Examiner/Legal News is pleased to welcome back Rich Nelson after a brief absence. Contact him at richmskgn@gmail.com