Lessons of Life
From Mitch Albom

I have a friend, a very good friend. We chat every Saturday afternoon over the phone. We worked together four decades ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes, which had stalled over northeastern Pennsylvania. She understood how I thought and functioned facing a long list of problems due to the massive flood. I also understood her mindset.

When reconnected in the last couple of years, it was interesting to both of us that we haven’t changed very much from the way were decades past. However, there is one exception. We both have danced with death. Her term for doing the dance is going down the tunnel. That radically changed both of us. While we would not wish to relive our near death experiences, neither of us would wish to delete them. They changed our lives in extremely positive ways.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about my family in Myanmar and how excited I was about seeing them again. There isn’t much about Ko Ko and Moh Moh, who are my adult children, that I haven’t told her. That is even more true about their children who are my granddaughters. Ti Ti was nine when I first met her…so we go back a half dozen years. Snow and Fatty were four and two when I first met them. Two years ago, I spent time with them and began our shared history, which they remember.

While I love all five members of my Myanmar family, Ti Ti was the bridge that tied her family to mine and vice versa. My friend knows about that relationship and knows that I’m still attempting more fully to grasp. I am haunted by wanting to understand everything that bonds her to me and therefore to the rest of her family. I must have expressed that to my friend in varying ways during all our weekly chats. I love all the family, but I can’t fathom all the reasons related to how that nine year old who is now fifteen affected me.

A couple weeks ago, my friend told me to read Mitch Albom’s book, Finding Chika. I had read his book, Tuesday’s With Morrie, but I wasn’t aware of Finding Chika. My former colleague said that Albom finding Chika reminded her of my relationship with Ti Ti at several levels. Chika was a small toddler when Albom met her. It took Albom about the same amount of time that it took me to see Ti Ti as a part my family…perhaps two or three nanoseconds. When that occurred, two worlds merged into one…one family.

This was Ti Ti six years ago.

This is Ti Ti today.

I got Albom’s experience. I had the same experience. He never wrote about adopting Chika. It want far beyond adoption. I didn’t adopt my family of five including Ti Ti. They just were my family. Chika wasn’t adopted; she was family.

Albom did everything for Chika; I get that. I feel that in my gut. I’d protect my family in any way that I can. To be honest with you, it is taking a lot of time to write this essay. I pause for a moment and remember events with my family in Myanmar and cry. I celebrate my memories, but I miss them. Both Albom and I have extended families. His extended family lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and my extended family lives in Taunggyi, Myanmar.

I’ll be in the air flying to Lahore, Pakistan in exactly a month. Sandy, my web administrator’s family lives in Lahore. Her brother will take me to the Khewra Salt Mine while I’m in Pakistan, then off to see my family in Myanmar.

So, I could relate emotionally to Finding Chika. However, my family in Myanmar don’t have the medical problems that Chika had. She had diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), which is a rare brain tumor.

However, Ginger, my three year old dog, has some medical issues. I’m in an emotional quandary. Ginger became Chika to me. When I finally understood my two dances with death, it sensitized me to the reality that my clock is ticking. Unless you have done the dance, you know at an intellectual level that your clock is ticking. It is merely abstract information. I feel it in my gut. Ginger has irritable bowel syndrome. This is Ginger at Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

There have been several times that I wasn’t sure that she would make it. That fear is intensified due to my two dances. Medically, I resolved my life threatening experiences, but Ginger is relatively normal with the medicine that she is taking. Nonetheless, things arise all too often, which cause me concern.

Now, blend my feelings about my family and Ti Ti with Finding Chika. Next, add Ginger’s issues. Ti Ti and Ginger become Chika. It is a perfect parallel. My friend tells me that I want to control everything in my life, which is true. I realize that I am not some omniscient and omnipotent person. I am not in control of life. Grudgingly, I admit it.

Interestingly, Randy Pausch, when he gave his Last Lecture, said about my problem, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the game.” I get Pausch’s point. Play the hand that was dealt to you and live in the moment. We can’t predict the future. We need to plan. We need to do what we can but enjoy the time that we have. Someday, we won’t have another day. Live and enjoy the now.