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The Best News Yet
We're able to laugh later when things go mildly wrong. But what happens when the news is the worst possible?

I visited a barbershop yesterday. My daughter heard about it and asked me why I would do such a thing. "There's nothing happening up there, Dad," is how she put it. "There's a recession going on right on top of your head." I smiled at her. And cut her out of the will.

They say the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is about two weeks.

At the hair salon a lady walked around my head once or twice, then squinted uncomfortably at me. She said, "Um … do you have a part?"

I said, "Yes, it starts at my left ear and goes all the way to my right."

She was still squinting. She said, "Do you think I should dye it."

I said, "No, you look fine to me, you don't need to lose a pound."

She smiled at my clever joke.

"Just take a little off the top," I coached her.

It was her turn to joke. "That's all you have," she said. They say the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is about two weeks. But surgery is another matter. Most major surgeries you can't go back and fix. They won't refund your money either. My older brother Dan went through the horrible ordeal of a detached retina. Just before the operation a doctor leaned over and said, "It's your left eye, right?" Dan was stunned. It was his right eye. He knew this absolutely for certain. The doctor frowned and narrowed his two good eyes at a computer print out. "It says here it's your left eye."

"No it's not," said Dan, "I can see fine with my left eye, please don't operate on it."

Of course we're able to laugh a little later about such things. But what happens when the news is the worst possible?

While speaking at a banquet I sat next to Ed, an oil executive. One year earlier Ed sat in his doctor's office listening but unable to process the doctor's horrible words. He had colon cancer. The shock had only begun to set in as he told his wife what the doctor had said. "The cancer is very advanced. I've seen other cases like this and it's highly unlikely that your body can fight it more than six months. We'll do all we can to help you, but you had better get your affairs in order. I'm so sorry."

After a sleepless night, Ed called the office. For the first time in decades he would not be at work. His work meant everything to him, what would he do without it? He wondered how he would tell his three children. And if they'd even care. Though they lived nearby they were almost strangers now. And what about the grandchildren? Though he had his secretary mail them birthday and Christmas gifts of her choosing, he seldom saw them, and he'd never been able to get their names straight. Should I call a minister? He wondered. But church hadn't been a part of his life since his wedding day. He hadn't the time for it. Besides, who would he call? What would he say?

But Ed was wrong. His children were devastated by the news. For the first time ever they saw their father reduced to tears. And they heard the words he'd never told them before: "I love you." That night, an old friend from college called. He'd heard the news. He was a minister. Could they go out for breakfast? How did eight o'clock sound?

The next day after breakfast Ed booked 12 tickets to Mexico, enough to take his children, their spouses, and all the grandchildren for two weeks. It was a Christmas like no other.

Though the doctor had done a painful colonoscopy, leaving Ed barely able to sit on the airplane, he had the time of his life in Mexico. Surrounded by family, he began to wonder where he'd been all these years. He watched them frolic in the surf. He even went hang-gliding. It was the only time his seat didn't hurt.

"It was the best two weeks of my life," he told me. "I didn't start living until I knew I was dying."

Back home he went to see his doctor. Seated behind a desk the physician's face was the colour of a snowball. "Ed, I don't know how to tell you this, but we've made a terrible mistake. We … uh … got the files mixed up. You're healthy as a horse."

Ed couldn't talk.

"You're probably considering a lawsuit, aren't you?"

Ed smiled. "How could I sue?" he asked. "You see doctor, I was a workaholic. The only thing I valued was money. It was all I could see. Then came your diagnosis. It changed everything. I've made things right with my kids. I know my grandchildren's names now, and they know mine. I've made things right with God too. I'm going to church again. I've never been more alive in my life. I can't thank you enough. The worst news I ever received turned out to be the best."

Getting up from his chair, he embraced the most surprised—and grateful—doctor in the history of medicine. Health is a gift, to be sure, but the gift of forgiveness is far greater. It provides us a chance to start over. Maybe to get it right this time.

Phil Callaway is the editor of Servant magazine, author of a dozen books and a popular speaker. His web site is:

Originally published in City Light News, March 2006.




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