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What the Strangers Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them

I stumbled upon a poignant quote that summed up a segment of my life, and perhaps yours also. “You cannot discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time,” said Andre Gide, a French writer and 1947 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. Harsh but true —

I stumbled upon a poignant quote that summed up a segment of my life, and perhaps yours also. “You cannot discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time,” said Andre Gide, a French writer and 1947 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature.

Harsh but true — people look at you differently when they become aware you’ve been diagnosed with a disease or extended illness, cancer, or an addiction that just may kill you.

I am “living proof” of that dilemma. People in your circle will question or make comments on your weight, your flesh tone, your energy levels (or lack of), your diet — anything and everything that has something to do with your physical predicament. It can be overwhelming.

As a consequence of that, and trying to discover “new land”, I am much more apt to meeting strangers than ever before. Mother might have stressed “stranger danger” when you were younger, but it’s a new ballgame now.

Because complete strangers don’t know about my ailments or conditions (or yours), they can’t bring it up. No one says out of thin air, “Hey are you an alcoholic?” Or, “You don’t have cancer, do you?” They’d rather discuss the weather, taxes or the Super Bowl, which is fine by me.

The checkout clerk discusses the latest juices in aisle one, not my most recent CT scan. We both grin when asked if there is a coupon for it. The waitress at Ruby Tuesday asks me if I would like dessert, not. “Wow, you could stand to gain some weight. Is there something wrong?” People asking me for directions don’t give a whit about my blood platelet count — instead, they want to know where to pick up Route 80 east.

Because they don’t know of the beast within me, or of constant blood work or those infamous “infusion days” they can’t pick me apart like a rotten piece of fruit or vegetable in the supermarket. You know, “damaged goods”. That in turn, leads to livelier, exciting discussion and outlook.

As far as “leaving the shore” — let alone losing sight of it — I can vouch for that in several other ways that you have also experienced. Leaving the comforts of high school to enter the challenging and unforgiving world of college. To take on a new job even though the old one provided security, and to dump so-called friends who were anything but.

My most significant journey from shore to discovery was met with an island. Being laid up in a hospital for several weeks brought misery and depression. Isolation from the rest of the world and the “normalcy” I enjoyed. This “island” represented a 50/50 proposition — half the people there had an illness, and the other 50 percent roaming the halls were there to help them!

Doctors and nurses would call their domain an “island of hope” and not despair. As a patient with drain tubes hanging out of you and constant tests every hour, it takes on another meaning. I was ready to leap the bed and paddle back to land!

When you leave a hospital, clinic, or rehab center, I suppose you are ripe and “open game” for cross-examination. If you commit a crime and go to court, you expect it. But when you come home and are trying to get back into the groove of things, it’s hard to play press mediator. It’s natural for people to be curious and hopefully concerned and not callous. Even so, it’s hard to answer some questions that can be thrown at you.

Life expectancy being at the top of the list. Don’t ask. It’s in higher hands and promised lands so ask him, not me.

Discovering new lands comes at the risk of some very choppy waters.

There was a day this past summer, late in August if I recall, that I felt I wasn’t being evaluated under a microscope. The morning started with a leisurely walk where only the birds and squirrels gave me a “once over.” No harm done there.

By afternoon it became more freewheeling as I hit the road on my bicycle. What ensued could best be described as God using me in a public relations video for anyone feeling down and out after a grueling path of recovery.

For some reason every stranger I encountered that afternoon, not knowing me from Paul, never stopped being friendly or uplifting. I must thank the three ladies walking their dogs in Bruce Henry Park who took the time to tell me their dogs names and pedigrees. To the little boy near Penn Street who waved me on as if I was on the Tour de France.

The two teen girls walking past the Lycoming football field, their braces gleaming in the late summer sun, didn’t look down as this guy on a bike was passing them. A cheerful, “Hi, how are you?” Came out in unison.

An older man in Brandon Park nodded and gave me the “peace sign” as I whizzed along. A driver in a car yielded to me when he really didn’t have to. Some boys on bikes decided to ride next to me and inquire if I liked my trusty Cannondale. I stopped for a drink at a small store, and the clerk said, “How far are you riding? You look trim and fit, so you must bike all the time.”

It’s simple things like that, which can remove any self-doubt, make a person feel better, and make the world a much nicer place. Stranger danger? Not on that day! Everything was on a positive note.

Sailing away from your shore may be on purpose sometimes — to expand horizons, to seek new things and challenges in life. Other times, however, it’s a wicked voyage thrust upon us, which we didn’t ask for, let alone plan for.

No doubt then, when trekking through a rough patch — a storm — and you want to get back to where you were, it’s nice to encounter strangers, who not only won’t inquire about the bleak, but on certain occasions seem to all come from one place for you to find the way home.

A fog house.

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