Picking Up The Broken Pieces

I used to believe I was a “”master of my own destiny.”” I wasted money on self-help books that promised me the ability to control my fate. Now I think it is all one big joke, a sham, because none of us are prepared for how quickly life can unravel; my experience in the past few months is testament to this.

Last December, while I toured India and bought little trinkets for relatives and friends back home, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. While I dined on Indian bread and danced at clubs, my friend, a sister to me, was poked and prodded by needles and medical professionals.

None of this was mentioned to me. I was completely unaware of my friend’s suffering because friends and relatives thought it was in my best interest that I find out about her diagnosis when I returned home.

In the meantime, oblivious to her condition, I sent her obnoxious e-mails that told her to “”get up and dance”” because she briefly mentioned that she was not feeling that well. It was not until I got back home that I discovered that she was in the hospital. I had no reaction; not a single tear. I thought it was all a mistake.

It was just a small setback that would quickly repair itself. It wasn’t until I got to see her — my friend transformed into a cancer patient — that I realized that everything was going to change. There would not be any summer trips together, and if there were, they would be short, not extravagant affairs that I secretly planned in my mind. There would be no rollerblading at the beach, no hiking in the mountains, and certainly no investigating ghosts in haunted houses (my idea, not hers).

In the weeks that followed, I struggled to understand what was happening around me. I racked my brain for any possible clues that I may have missed, that would have revealed that she had cancer. I read as much as I could about leukemia and memorized as much information as I could possibly squeeze into my brain. I spent hours talking about how I felt to another friend, who had lovingly taken care of her and greatly helped ease the situation.

Yet, through all of it, I never really sunk under the ice that had replaced emotional fragility and protected me from feeling any pain. I was content to ignore the fact she had a deadly disease and instead focus on dressing her up and taking her out to dinner.

And through it all, I was a marvelous actor. When people asked me how I was doing, I said “”Fine,”” even though I knew that the possibility of having a nervous breakdown was almost certain.

In school, I became blase about my classes. Occasionally, I’d emerge from my daydreams into a world that I observed but was never really a part of. I took notes and wrote papers, but all of them were half-hearted attempts that I am now ashamed of.

Dramatic outbursts at home were frequent. Conversations with my parents turned into arguments about the stupidest things. And I was beginning to think that this nightmare, watching the physical deterioration and emotional changes in my friend, would never be over.

The girl who had spent four years taking care of me; spending hours in the night tutoring me for physics exams, subjecting herself to visual impairment by waxing my hairy body and countless other cruelties had become a shadow of her former self.

In the four years that I had known her, I had always been slightly envious. Watching her change from how I had known her both physically and emotionally made my feelings about what was happening to her all the more unsettling.

In high school, she never failed to amaze me. She was a stellar student, a better writer than I was, and had beauty to match. Not only was she a size 6 (how annoying!) she had facial features that would have put Naomi Campbell to shame. Then, to top it off, she got into the university that I had dreamed of attending and was rejected from.

Intrinsically, I knew her life was set. She was going to become a famous doctor or scientist or child psychologist. And then my vision of the future, hers, all crumbled. And mine quickly followed. It’s sad to say that an event like this has made me realize how vulnerable and fragile we all are. And oh yes, how mortal.

Until all of this, I never stopped to seriously consider that I and everyone else around me would someday die. Sure, I pondered it, albeit briefly, but I always figured there would be some devious way in which I could cheat death and pass on the secrets. This was my very pathetic attempt to deal with a depressing topic.

And although I know my friend is strong and has responded to spinal taps, cranial surgeries, and the rest of the hell that accompanies chemotherapy with nothing less than unwavering courage, I wonder how many people would be able to show the same strength. I know I certainly couldn’t.

It’s strange how drastically things can change in such a short time. Looking back on the past few months has made me realize that I’m a very different person today from the person I was in December. A brief span of only a few months has completely changed my perspective on life.

It’s sad to say that it took a situation like this to open my eyes and make me realize that nothing stays the same forever.

I have only recently become aware that our lives can change in a second, a week, a year.

As incredibly corny as this sounds, for the first time, I am aware of how precious the people around me are. I do not think I will ever be as brave as my friend, but I think at last, I’m beginning to understand that it’s OK to be scared. And it’s OK to hope, as well.

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