Straight Paths

Loyal enrolled in our outpatient hospice program with lung cancer. He was in his late 70s, thin with silver-gray hair combed straight back. He typically dressed in khaki pants, a dress shirt and suspenders. In his prime Loyal owned a trucking company and boxed professionally in St. Louis. Loyal reflected, “I fought back when you fought every Saturday night for ten dollars a fight”. He proudly proclaimed, “I’ve been knocked down but I’ve never been knocked out. I’ve always thought that life wasn’t very interesting without a challenge.” So I asked Loyal, “So what is your challenge now?” and Loyal replied, “To stand up from this couch to my walker as many times a day as I can until I can get enough strength back to drive again.”

I asked Loyal, “So what is it like to have cancer?” And he replied, “You know, I feel like I’m out of the stream of life. I used to be in the stream of life. I had several trucks and drivers and transported fruit and vegetables from the south to the north and sold them wholesale. But now I’m stuck here in this house while people are out there going here and there. I understand that people have their own lives to live, but you know, people don’t handle that word cancer very well so they don’t handle you very well either.” Loyal may have “never been knocked out”, but he was surely feeling left out; “out of sight, out of mind”.

A few years ago I watched a documentary about the construction of the Hoover Dam aired on “The History Channel”. Construction began in 1931 and was completed in 1936. For those interested in trivia, did you know that it was during the construction of the Hoover Dam that hardhats were first used? Workers dipped there cotton hats in tar and allowed them to harden to protect their heads from falling rock. The hats were so successful that the project coordinators ordered the production of thousands of the hats and mandated their use.

Now back to the point of this story. I was amazed at how the engineers and workers diverted the flow of the powerful Colorado River so that the dam could be built on the dry riverbed. Four water diversion tunnels, each 56 feet wide were bored through the canyon walls, two on each side of the river. The workers used only dynamite and jack hammers, no heavy equipment. A temporary cofferdam was then constructed from the excavated rock to force the Colorado River to flow through the tunnels.

Now let’s stop and reflect for a moment. Is there someone we haven’t seen for a while? Is there someone we’ve been wondering about? Do we know someone who is out of the stream of life? Can you see them in your mind’s eye? What are their names? I have a couple fellows in mind right now and, the Lord willing, I’m going to stop by and see Jack and call Ken by the end of the day. If engineers were able to redirect the flow of the Colorado River, surely we can redirect the flow of our lives to reach to those who are “out of the stream of life. And let’s not just think about it, let’s do it; for it’s not what we do that comes between us, but what we don’t do.

”Around the corner I have a friend, in this great city that has no end. Yet days go by and weeks rush on, and before I know it a year is gone. And I never see my old friend’s face, for life is a swift and terrible race. He knows I like him just as well as in the days when I rang his bell, and he rang mine. We were younger then. And now we are busy and tired men; tired with playing a foolish game; tired with trying to make a name. Tomorrow, I say, I’ll call on Jim, just to show him that I’m thinking of him. Tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes, and the distance between us grows and grows. Around the corner yet miles away, here’s a telegram, ‘Jim died today’. And that’s what we get and deserve in the end, around the corner a vanished friend.” (Charles Town)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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