The best thing that happened to me last week was catching up with an old friend when I was in Sydney on Monday.

We had arranged to meet up at the Coogee Pavilion after work, near where he lives. I reckon we hadn’t seen each other for about ten years, though we occasionally catch up occasionally and are FB friends. I hadn’t had a proper conversation with him in all that time, and there was a lot to catch up on.

He arrived a few minutes after I did with a big smile on his face and embraced me. He’s a 6’3″ Swede, blonde and fit. We’re almost exactly the same age and have much in common in history, experience and attitude. We’re old-school types, honest and forthright and like a good laugh.

He knew all about my cancer from my FB posts. He was curious, naturally, and sympathetic. I ran through the story deadpan.

To my way of thinking, he has just about the perfect life. He was like me before, a traveller and a seeker of experience. He was in no hurry to settle down and lived the good life while achieving a lot. About a dozen years he finally married and then had a daughter. He loves his home in Coogee and is one of those odd types who go for an ocean swim every Saturday. His wife joins him.

He picks his work now, contracting himself out as a project manager. He’s top-notch, calm and exact. He told me his wife was the primary breadwinner, and they had everything they needed. He’d just returned from a trip to Sweden to visit his parents.

That’s how I expected my life to go if you’d asked me fifteen years ago. I lived well, eating out, travelling OS every year, meeting interesting people, and challenging myself with work. I was doing well and had a rich life – lucky, really. I was in no hurry to move on, but I definitely wanted to settle down with someone who understood and loved me. I wanted children. I imagined a comfortable life. I reckon I might have been ripe for it about the same time my mate married, except my life had diverged unexpectedly and in an unwelcome direction by then.

I felt a little wistful seeing my friend again. He had what I wanted – perhaps, what I should have had. They’re lost years for me, compounded by the cancer I suffered through. I have a deep-seated sadness over that – over what might have been. It’s full in me, but it’s remote because I can’t go back and change it. I accept the way it is.

Swings and roundabouts. I don’t know who I’d be now had I continued down that path. I am this person instead. Either way, I’d have gotten sick.

What I’ve got now is an awareness I might not have needed otherwise. Being sick with cancer is a big reason for that because the nearness of death highlights the things you have and don’t have. I don’t know how it happens, but I know that my friend can be an inspiration still for what can be. The years I lost are gone, but I can claim and make use of the time that’s left to me.

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