On Living Well

Written By Chiropractic Health and Wellness on April 14, 2010

Some of you may know that my father is in the final process of dying of cancer and I have been going back and forth to Milwaukee to be with him.  There are, of course, all kinds of dismal and sad things to say about this experience, but that would not do justice to the more inspiring aspects of his life.  He is currently 84 years old. He was born in Hungary and was raised in a Jewish family, which has great relevance for the time and place.  He was educated through the 8th grade but then, not being a particularly good student, was sent to learn a trade.  He became an apprentice, then journeyman and eventually a master pastry chef in the finest of European tradition.  Though he was a very talented athlete and had great aspirations, all opportunity for participation and advancement was barred to him because he was Jewish.  Then came the war in Europe and because of his religious heritage he was forced into a Jewish labor camp, escaping boldly and luckily before the Nazi's took over the Hungarian government in October, 1944, and set about to exterminate every Jew in Hungary.  The war was already all but lost for them, but they figured they would at least finish one job properly.  After his escape, he and his brother were hidden by a sympathetic acquaintance on the outskirts of Budapest.  He survived the Holocaust only to be swept up by the Soviet "liberators" and, once again, pressed into a labor battalion.  Through luck and boldness he and a few friends managed to escape the Russians too.

The war ended and he was smuggled out of Hungary as the Iron Curtain fell, first living as a Displaced Person in Linz, Austria, and eventually making his way to Canada by claiming that he was a skilled carpenter- he cannot pound a nail to save his life.  The Canadian government was looking for laborers to help with a hydroelectric project north of Thunder Bay, Ontario.  As so many like him, he came to North America with nothing and hardly spoke any English.  He settled in Montreal where he met my mother and fathered me.  Eventually we all emigrated to the US where he became a traveling salesman.  He drove 60,000 miles a year for 40 years or so and managed, through saving and investment, to amass a small fortune.  He survived the death of his wife and one of his daughters: my mom and sister. He met and fell in love with someone new and together they travelled the world.  He never lost his love of sport and up until last year we still skied together as a family in Colorado.  He played singles tennis and walked 18 holes of golf until just last year.  He ate what he wanted, never smoked, and drank only in moderation.  He never took vitamins and always made gentle fun of me for doing so and for all the other crazy "health nut" things that I have done over the years. 

I won't catalog all the illnesses that he was afflicted with or the number of organs that he had removed- you wouldn't believe it if I did.  Through it all he took great pride in the fact that he was never on any medication- he said that it shocked his doctors and I think that gave him some satisfaction.  As he became sicker and I implored him to take better care of himself by changing his diet and taking supplements he simply refused to change a thing.  His wife, Jennifer, summed it up best when I asked her if she thought he wanted to die.  She said, "No, I think he just wants to live the way he wants to live".  Frustrating as that conclusion is, I think there is a lot to admire in it. 

Over the past months of watching this process with him, I have become more impressed  with the power of sheer persistence in the face of adversity.  I probably do not need to tell you that he is dying the same way he lived- his way.  I am also not going to tell you that throughout his life he was a rosy optimist or even that he had a positive outlook-far from it.   What I will tell you is that he just kept going and sometimes that is what it takes in life.  Having courage, being bold and making decisions even when there is much at stake, persisting on a given course and then being able to change when needed, being pragmatic and willing to bend the rules that thwart your survival- these are some of things that got the guy through.  Though he was not particularly joyous, he did find joy in family and close friends.  Even though he was quite frugal, he was very generous when it mattered. He valued education, travel, health and vigor.  All these qualities were tempered and refined by an often hard life, but they got him through and I am grateful that I had such a great and heroic example in my own life. 

One thing is clear to me in all of this: no matter the hand you are dealt, you can make something out of it.  The life you are living is yours to live.  Decide how you want it to be and then go out and make it happen.  You will encounter all kinds of difficulty because it is rare that things just fall into a person's lap without effort and travail.  Just know that with persistence, courage, hard-won talent and a little bit of luck you can create what you want.  Finally, at the end of your life you can proudly show your battle scars and tell your children and grandchildren that you lived well in spite of everything.  That is how a warrior lives and that is how a warrior dies. 

 My wish for you is that no matter how you choose to live, that you are fulfilled and surrounded by people who love you.

 Dr. Tim Fargo