GENDUSA COLUMN: A brave adventurer’s final journey

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, November 3, 2021

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After a seven-year battle with cancer, Tom passed away. But then, I am still not sure who won. In all my years living on this earth, the fortitude and power Tom exhibited during his battle were akin to Alexander of the Great family.

At the beginning of his cancer war, the future looked bleak for Tom. He was sick and fearful of what the next day would bring. I am not sure when or what month or even what day, but somewhere along the battle lines, Tom decided he would live fiercely until he couldn’t.

Always the adventurer, he began packing his bags. He and his wife, Geri, sped off when the cancer was slowed by chemo, new medicines, and Tom’s ferocious will.  They sailed across oceans, flew high in the sky, and drove across the land, distancing themselves from disease. Tom’s desire to see the world and enjoy the folks who inhabit it curtailed cancer’s death wish.

One last dream trip was planned with a buddy to go to Antarctica, but it wasn’t the big ‘C’ that canceled that trip, but rather the other nasty ‘C,’ COVID.

Because of the virus, the travels and explorations ended for a while.  However, once those vaccines hit Tom’s arms, the brochures, plans and adventures were back on the table. Cancer would need to return to the cargo hold.

Finally, Tom’s adventurous voyage to the South Pole was rebooked, and he could finally see the ship on the horizon in his soul. But about the same time, cancer was weakening his body, and the doctor finally broke the news, “Tom, there isn’t much time left.” Saddened, Tom thought about his family, friends and the last trip he would miss.  He wasn’t ready to leave. The oncologist, seeing the sadness sweep across his patient’s face, declared, “Tom, you are going on the greatest adventure of your life. You will finally see the face of God, and he will show you the world!”

Tom flew away three days later. He was in a hurry to go.

For some, reading this, it is a sad tale of sickness and death. But when I think about those who savor living until life ends, I am in awe of the courage they exemplified during the battle. They give purpose to their days and show the meaning of motivation to the rest of us who are eating twinkies while staring at the TV.

Whether a soldier is battling an enemy in war or a warrior facing a disease, the endurance and strength it demands to stand tall is astounding. These are the folks who can teach us all how to march on and live a good meaningful life.

How many of us waste precious moments with self-indulgence and trivialities? How many of us fight over stupid stuff, acting irresponsibly and selfishly? While Tom was facing death with grace and honor, there were idiots on planes punching flight attendants or politicians somewhere acting like idiots. Folks were fighting over a vaccine to prevent illness, while others like Tom were rejoicing to receive an injection so they could continue to live. 

We all make mistakes, sin and occasionally act foolishly while we are here. And, for many, we try to correct or atone for those errors during the hours we breathe if we are insightful enough to do so.

For me, I envision my final trip because I see God now. I suppose when I leave here, I will travel down a long hall. Framed pictures hang on the walls depicting my life on earth. I will view joyful paintings of my time with family, and then I also see dark scenes depicting the sins and hurt I created. They will cause me sorrow as I relive my journey walking down the corridor. However, at the end of the hallway, there is a light waiting for me, and as I move closer, I recognize the face of God. He takes my hand and dries my tears from the sadness of my life.  And when I touch him, I look back toward the hall, but it has vanished.  It is then God smiles, and I understand.

We are born with a duty to live our lives until we are done. Our days here will leave inspiration for others or not. When we walk down the passageway to meet our maker, what scenes will be depicted in the highlighted paintings of our time? 

So, adventurous Tom took his final journey. I believe when the brave explorer reached the end of the hallway, the Lord said, “Welcome, my friend, I am flying you to Antarctica where we will toast the setting sun for an inspirational life well done.” 

For Tom Harkins, 1949-2021