While this Memorial Day is for them, my memorial day will be spent remembering a man who left a deep – and permanent – mark on me. In college, I worked for the athletic media relations department. Nick Huber was my boss – only a few years older than I – but he was really a rock star at what he did. Really, he was a super star when you consider he was diagnosed with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease – at the age of 23. (ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disease that destroys motor neurons, and there is no cure.)
Yes, Nick was my boss, but he was so much more – a friend, a sounding board, a mentor. And not just the kind of mentor that made me better at my job, though he certainly did that. He was the type of mentor who taught me about real things. About life. About dying. About how to live, and how to laugh, and how to make a difference.
It’s impossible to say everything I’d like to say about Nick in a blog post, but I would like to leave you with a couple excerpts from a blog he maintained until he passed away in July 2008 at the age of 28.
In response to Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying”
I was dying after all, and it wasn’t that cool, what with all of the doctor’s appointments, changing life goals, and elimination of countless dreams. It was not exactly a thrill.
I don’t think that necessarily means you have to follow Tim’s advice and go skydiving or rocky mountain climbing. It doesn’t take big things to get the most out of life in my opinion. When my last day on earth comes, I don’t think I will regret evenings like this where I relax with my beautiful wife in our safe and comfortable home.
I am living. And I am dying. But most importantly, I am working to make every day matter.
On coming to terms with a terminal illness
When I was diagnosed, I thought about how I was going to squeeze 50 odd years of living down to five or so. It boggled my mind at times. I found myself anxiously trying not to “waste” a moment, whatever that meant. Since those early months after my diagnosis, I have come to the conclusion that I was trying to play a game that can’t be won. You cannot squeeze 50 years into five years. It can’t be done.
The real trick is trying to squeeze five years of living into five years. Or one year of living into one year. Or one month of living into one month.
Each one of those units of time is composed of days. And days, by nature, have their limits. You can only do so much in a day after all. But, you can do so much in a day. So I try to have days that are meaningful by approaching each day fresh, even if the previous one was rotten.
It all starts with a single day.
I went and saw Nick the night before I was leaving for my big move to Washington. I think we both knew we wouldn’t be seeing each other again in this life, making that last visit a bittersweet time. Even so, I was chomping at the bit to get home and finish packing, and Nick looked over at me, “What’s the hurry? Washington isn’t going anywhere.”
I think of that night often and the final lesson Nick was trying to teach me.
It’s about the journey, not the destination.
I wasn’t anxious to enjoy 22 hours of driving; I was anxious to get to where I was going. The journey was just a means of getting there.
But Nick? Nick was a journey man. Maybe because his destination was a one-way ticket on the outbound train, maybe because that’s just how he was.
Today, I’m remembering to enjoy the journey, to embrace the journey, to live the journey.