As I stood at the Chevron gas pump, I saw my sweet friend, Carol Simmermacher Smith, bounding up to me from the street. Out of breath, she shouted, “I just took a bike ride the other day with my husband and daughter!” As she beamed with excitement, all I could think was, What a horrible way to spend your day.
Riding a bike was never one of my favorite activities, and certainly never resulted in my finer moments. Sitting on those hard seats was excruciating, even with the excess adipose tissue attached to my rear end oozed over the sides. To make matters worse, I always seemed to be the target of some insufferable sports car that didn’t want to share the road. More often than not, I was considered akin to road kill and knocked into the bushes.
But that day at the gas station, looking at the exhilaration on my frail friend’s face, I snapped back to her reality and teared up. Twenty-six years before, Carol had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After enduring one tortuous treatment after another, she became cancer free and a survivor – until now. Just when the painful experience had become a distant glimmer, her cancer was back.
Now, every activity she participated in was as thrilling for her as it was the first time. People in the deep throws of this menacing disease instinctively know that any glorious moment could be their last. They know that each must be treasured and enjoyed.
Shame poured over me like the gooey melted ice cream Sundays I use to dump over my brother’s head – disgustingly thick and opaque. There’s so much to my day, to my every day, that I often take for granted. Carol was struggling to stay alive, and still enjoying each moment as if she were having the time of her life. I wondered, When was the last time I did that?”
Kissing Carol goodbye, I made a vow to myself. I’d wake each morning ready to embrace my day. I would appreciate every moment whether it was with my family, friends, or even just alone. I’d let the unimportant things slide and love fully with no regrets. I would smell the roses as I snitched them from unsuspecting neighbors, breathing in their intoxicating aroma. And I’d thank God for each day for my gift of life. So proud of my resolution, I couldn’t wait for the next opportunity to tell her what an inspiration she was for me.
Two weeks later, we bumped into each other at the YMCA. She’d just finished the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” walk and was thrilled to be able to participate on her own two feet instead of the wheelchair two years before. We hugged, kissed again and I told her how much I loved her. A week later she was gone. She passed away cancer free, but, unfortunately, the medical treatments can be more insidious than the disease at times.
Carol Simmermacher Smith will be sorely missed in our community. There is not a person she touched that isn’t better for knowing her. Her smile, grace, and heart-warming spirit have been tattooed on many a soul. We are all forever changed for the better just for knowing her.
Each night, I say a prayer of thanks for Carol’s shining example of a life well lived. I know she’ll continue to have the time of her life in heaven while she waits for those she loved to join her. And in the meantime, I plan to do the same. Anyone have a bike I can borrow?