Zihuatanejo was the perfect island that provided hope for the imprisoned Andy Dufresne in the movie Shawshank Redemption. The story is representative of the indomitable human spirit and potential to overcome overwhelming odds. It’s a cinematic masterpiece depicting one innocent man’s pursuit towards truth, freedom, and justice. Despite the injustice he experienced, Andy maintained an optimistic perspective, “Hope is a good thing. Maybe even the best of things and good things never die.” His good friend Ellis Boy "Red" Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, held on to the refrain, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
Some consider significant sickness unfair, or even an injustice. This summer, illness has tested my mettle. Specifically, the diagnosis of Cholangiocarcinoma- a.k.a. bile duct cancer. To say it’s been trying for me and those close is an understatement. On July 24th I was rushed by ambulance due to severe internal bleeding. Once I arrived to the ER at Massachusetts General Hospital, I coded on the table. My wife stood nearby as the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) spent 8 hours saving my life. Shout out to Ellison 4 - they are AMAZING! Words can’t express my gratitude.
Since that harrowing experience, MGH has performed procedures, scans, tests. I’ve spent more than 30 days inpatient during the last couple of months. The physical trauma is one thing. The emotional toll is another. Cancer conversations with my wife and 9-year-old son have been difficult (to say the least). It was indescribably heart-wrenching to hear the question, “will dad be alive when I’m a teenager?” I have a hard time writing that without tearing up. And you know what- the answer “I don’t know” isn’t any easier.
Through it all, I’ve had a daily choice to make: to get busy living, or get busy dying. Why not me? What doesn’t kill makes me stronger, or as Michelle Obama said, “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it's important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.”
In the movie Braveheart, the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, “Every man dies, not every man truly lives.”
I chose to truly live; and I encourage you to do the same.
I can hold loved ones a bit closer. I can make hugs a little tighter and last longer. I can put a smile on the faces of others. I’m good for a cheesy dad joke. I can tickle feet until laughter erupts. I can be patient (and grow in patience). I can be kind. I can comfort friends and loved ones- after all in the journey of life, we all have challenges to overcome.
Not just in the beating heart breathing lungs kind of way. I choose to live in a way that celebrates the small things. Instead of tossing and turning in bed, I choose get up and pray during the solace that only a still night can bring. There’s a majesty where nature provides glimpses into the eternal. The sweet scent of diverse flora soothes the soul. Falling leaves with colors of nature’s wonderous palette please the eye. The susurrus sound of birds singing to greet the rising sun is sublime. Bullfrogs, with symphonic precision, carry bass notes.
Poet William Blake words resonate,
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
There have been many healthy days where I’ve reacted rather than lived. Work demands mounted. Family responsibilities beckoned. One day rolled into the next without fanfare. Embracing life in the little moments does not diminish responsibility. To the contrary. There is an urgency to dotting “I’s” and crossing “T’s”. Budgeting, Life Insurance, Estate Planning, Paperwork Completion, Updating Wills, Healthcare Proxy (to name a few) aren’t things to put in the maybe later pile. Planning for the future while embracing each moment go hand in hand.
Woodrow Wilson provides some insight on building a rich life, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
Adversity provides us with opportunities for growth. When we embrace challenges and trials perseverance is developed. Oprah Winfrey, in her wisdom said, “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” James, the well-known servant of God said, consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
My encouragement to you is to Live. Don’t wait until circumstances force you to choose. Tomorrow is completely unknown. Today we have a choice to make, to “get busy living or get busy dying.” I choose to get busy living!
Thanks for reading! Please share how you embrace life and encourage others with your example.
Through Matt Paradise Consulting LLC, I provide financial education to groups of all sizes and socio-economic backgrounds.
I’m passionate about helping people. I love developing and delivering personal finance programs. The high value projects I create have been refined over a 20-year career in Credit Counseling. I’ve directly helped more than 100,000 people reach financial goals like getting out of debt, improving credit, buying homes, resolving and preventing identity theft, saving, and balancing budgets.
I know what it’s like to struggle for survival. Moving out on my own at 16, “home” was any couch or floor offered by friends and strangers. Problem solving skills were developed out of necessity. As a lifelong learner, my financial life has been transformed through 20 years of formal training, professional development, and the collective wisdom of every person I’ve coached, counseled, and taught.
I find joy in creating —weather it’s designing solutions for complex financial challenges, making music, writing poetry or building Legos with my son.
Check out my website and let me know how I can create and deliver an engaging program for your employees, community organization, or group of any size.