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Ken rejoices in the sweet side of life’s randomness

For the past few months, two beloved family members, my aunt and stepfather, have been in and out of the hospital. Both are terminally ill. In the next weeks or months, my stepsisters will be parentless without the critical emotional tether of their father, my mom will face the remainder of her life without her husband of 31 years, my cousins will lose their maternal “Rock of Gibraltar,” and my mom and her siblings—the over-70 gang of five—will be four and facing more urgent thoughts of their own mortality.

No one escapes life without experiencing its inherent unfairness. The randomness of crippling diseases or the chaos of humanity itself affects us all, eventually, and the anguish from these losses knows no racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries. Tragedy occurs unexpectedly at any time, whether it is an untimely death of a loved one, or simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, we are in this world together and subject to the same laws of probability. Those of us who haven’t yet had “our turn” to mourn or reflect, our turn is coming.

The challenge for all of us is how to deal with the uncertainty of certainty. Yes, we may buckle our seatbelts as a precaution. We may even exercise and eat healthy as a safe guard. But randomness is randomness. Try as we might to control the uncontrollable, life is brutally unfair at times. Things happen. Things happen that shouldn’t. They may be wrong and unjust, but they happen nonetheless.

As I drove home recently from St. Joseph’s hospital on Thanksgiving, I was alone with these thoughts with tears in my eyes. I had just helped my Aunt Jo Skype with her kids in California, and now I was headed home to share Thanksgiving dinner with a collection of family and friends, and one who was homeless for the holiday. My Aunt Jo is no ordinary “Jo”; she was my catcher’s mitt when I needed her as a young teenager. My stepfather is no ordinary “Bob”; he is my life-long teacher and teacher of life. For the sake of the spirit of Thanksgiving, however, I needed to collect myself to find a positive message for a Thanksgiving toast.

And then somewhere between the Sunset and Bakerview exits from I-5, I had an epiphany. Randomness has two sides, one that causes us to cry “foul” and one that we take for granted and too seldom appreciate. Randomness can be a beautiful thing, a blessing. I was about to go home to the sweet side of randomness—to a wonderful wife who completes me, step children who accept me as a second father, close friends who have added such joy and laughter to my life, amazing neighbors who were strangers just a short time ago but are now extended family, and a young man in need of unconditional love on Thanksgiving. All of us were part of each other’s lives by chance. The irony of the long overdue revelation was profound.

I made peace with randomness that day. By the time that I passed Axton Way, I had scrolled back through the most important memories in my life and gratefulness overwhelmed my sadness. With few exceptions, randomness has been my friend, not my foe. I have been beyond fortunate. If we pause and reflect on the tapestry of our life journeys, most of us are—and yet we often dwell on the negative as if everything positive in our lives was the product of controllable forces. Peace had been there for my taking all along, and I embraced it that day, gratefully.

The knock on the door of life may bring me sadness today, but the scale is more than counterbalanced by appreciation for all that I have that I have not earned. Thanks to pure serendipity, my mom met a shy, introspective history professor from Fairhaven College who shared with her an amazing life full of uncommon adventures, who gave her happiness that every son wishes upon his mother but is powerless to give, and whose moral compass, honesty of thought and sense of fairness inspired me to be a better person. Thanks to my Aunt Jo’s unselfish act of love, she re-directed the trajectory of my life. I don’t know where I am in life or whether I have made a difference. But I do know that my life has been even better than my childhood dreams because of her.

For those in search of a New Year’s resolution, I encourage all of my readers to pause and reflect and take a short ride on I-5 between the Sunset and Bakerview exits. It is a magical stretch of road.

My special thanks to Dr. Rey, RNs Julie, Becky and Josh, and CNA Gracie and the rest of the wonderful staff at St. Joseph’s hospital for their loving care of my Aunt Jo and stepfather, Bob.