It was Saturday afternoon, I was at the mall shopping with my wife and kids, when I got the message that one of my closest friends appeared to be losing his battle with cancer. He had just been rushed to the hospital, resuscitated, and finally hooked up to life support machines. I was warned that he wouldn’t last long, so if I needed to see him, I should do it now. It was there in the food court of the mall, after hearing the news that I collapsed and wept right there in front of my daughters. My wife held my hand, and I’m sure people were staring, but all I could think about in that moment as I looked back and forth at my two daughters was Taylor. Taylor is my friend’s 6 year old (soon to be 7 this week) daughter.
Earlier that previous morning at 5:09 am Friday morning when I received the following text from him, love all y’all, I knew something was wrong, not only because of its randomness, but also its brevity. Almost 3 years ago, he received the lung cancer diagnosis that was only supposed to give him 6 months to live. In typical J. Scott fashion, he’s surpassed everyone’s expectations, beating several re-occurences. But this most recent fight, it looked like he was losing.
All you had to do was look at his body and tell why. When I first arrived to the hospital, he looked completely emaciated. His sunken face and limp body connected to various tubes told the story of the latest culprit of this disease, severe malnutrition. For hours I talked with his family about what an inspiration Josh has been to me over the years. And it’s true. It’s quite possible that I wouldn’t have made it through high school without him. In a day and age before being different was cool, Josh was the epitome of embracing his own authenticity. That was his thing. And everyone loved him for that. He knew how much I struggled to find my place to fit in, not accepted by the racist white people in my honors classes, not quite accepted by the black students who I didn’t grow up with. I was truly stuck in the middle trying to please everyone, but doing myself no favors. He was the one who encouraged me with his beyond his years wisdom to just be myself. Typical Josh, he never cared what other people thought about him (and he didn’t have to, everyone loved him!).
But talking to his dad at the hospital this weekend, it appears that I too had an impact on Josh. He told me stories I hadn’t heard before about my friend. How proud Josh was of me being a “good guy”, and how I influenced him to attend college (we were supposed to be college roomates, but at the last minute, I unenrolled from the college of charleston to attend Emory, Josh later dropped out after his 1st year). We kept each other out of trouble, and admitted got each other into a bit of trouble over the years. He was a groomsman at my wedding, and one day I hope to return the favor.
But, probably most importantly, we both served as each other’s confidantes over the years. When I created a fatherhood small group where friends of mine from across the country would hop on the phone bi-weekly to discuss topics of fatherhood, he was a vital part of that. In many ways, growing up and witnessing his close relationship with his father inspired me in my own concept of fatherhood.
Leaving the hospital, I didn’t get the sense that Josh was ready to die. He became responsive by the end, even opening his eyes, smiling and nodding along as I talked to him. Regardless of what happens, if his body fails him, his spirit will truly live on in the lives of those he’s touched. I’m just glad that I got to see my friend one last time, and tell him how much he’s meant to me. I got to see Taylor again, and remind her how special her father is. And when I arrived back home, early Sunday afternoon, greeted at the door by my two young girls and my wife, I was just happy to be present, and in the number one more time.