“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

– Charles R. Swindoll, American Writer and Clergyman

Jeffrey was a 67-year-old gentleman who had a contagious enthusiasm for life and never missed an opportunity to show it. When he was in the room, usually asking questions or telling stories, the world seemed full of possibilities – no dream was too big. His everyday prose was filled with historical references, quotes from philosophers and well-worn punch lines. His professional life brought him overseas for many years, mostly in the former Soviet Union, where he built relationships with other government officers. In my mind’s eye, I often pictured Jeffrey sitting a dimly lit bar in downtown Moscow in the latter part of the Cold War, drinking vodka with a group of his Russian couterparts, holding court, telling off-color jokes or engaged in deep, philosophical conversations.

I met Jeffrey just after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even in the earliest stages of his diagnosis, he seemed at peace with the idea that his life would be cut short. Although there were experiences and people he would miss dearly – most of all his wife – he looked back over time and realized that he had lived every day with fervor and intensity. Although not a religious man, it was almost as though he took a page out of the book of Isaiah: “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

About four months into chemotherapy, Jeffrey called me over and said, “I used to think the best way to die was in your sleep. But I’ve changed my mind.” He went on to explain that people who die in their sleep without any warning that their time has come have no chance to prepare. On the contrary, Jeffrey saw his illness as providing opportunities that would otherwise never have been afforded him. I pressed him for examples. He thought for a moment and said:

“An opportunity to speak to and act toward my wife in ways I have never before done. An opportunity to experience human contact in a way that is more sincere, honest and real than ever before. An opportunity to allow friends, neighbors and family to help me in ways I never thought they would. An opportunity to feel the kindness of strangers.”

Jeffrey died about six months after his diagnosis. In the short time he had, he looked at the ways his life had changed in the most positive light. His remarkable outlook on his illness turned his “impossible situation” into a series of “great opportunities” he had been given.