A personal story

Published 9:42 pm Friday, July 11, 2014

By Randy Forbes

One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from people today is, “Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of America?” I normally answer that I choose to be optimistic, and here is the reason why.

Four and a half years ago, my father-in-law (called Spur by his family and friends) walked out of a Washington Nationals baseball game with my two grown sons, Justin and Jamie. As they walked away from the stadium, Spur felt a strong pain in his side. He perspired. He struggled to keep up. They were just walking to get a cab, and Spur couldn’t comprehend why suddenly he felt so much discomfort just walking alongside his grandsons.

Two weeks later, Spur received the shocking news — he had stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The doctor gave him six months to live.

Then, the doctor said grimly: “We can give you treatments. But — they can be devastating. They will drastically alter your quality of life.”

Spur faced a decision. So he held a family meeting with the doctor, as families often do in the face of difficult medical choices. I remember sitting in the room with Spur and the doctor, encircled by family members. I remember Spur announcing he would not take the treatments. I remember him sharing that he simply wanted to enjoy his last six months as well as he could.

There was silence for a moment. And then, he went around the room looking each family member in the eye and asking for their opinions. His wife agreed with him. His daughter agreed. His sons agreed. Spur looked to the doctor and the doctor nodded his head: “Well, that’s what we’ll do then.”

They all stood up to leave, but Spur held back, looked over at me, and commented on how quiet I had been through the meeting. “What do you think, Randy?” he asked.

What would you say? I’m not a doctor. I’m not a wise old sage to give that kind of advice, the kind that could determine life or death. I did the only thing I could think to do. I looked at the doctor and simply asked what he would choose to do if this were his wife. The doctor paused for a moment and said, “I’d give her the treatments.”

So I looked at Spur and told him, “I’d take the treatments.” Spur sat back down, looked at the doctor and said, “Give me the treatments.”

Spur’s decision was simple. But it was hard.

I share this story because less than a month ago, I walked out of a Washington Nationals game. Jamie was there. Justin was there. And Spur was there, walking beside me. He looked to me and said casually, “I have more energy now than I have had in 20 years. I feel better than I’ve felt in 20 years. They’ve reduced my medicine to the lowest amount possible.”

His words hit me.

Today, there are those who are willing to accept a dire diagnosis for America. They’ve made up their minds, and they’ve looked to their neighbors and friends and family, and they’ve all agreed. There are those who believe our nation is no different from other nations around the world. There are those who are willing to let our nation fall to an ill fate.

But what if we choose the treatments — the kind that might be uncomfortable or hard — and end up healthier than we’ve been before?

On the front end, those decisions are never easy. Finding the way to turn our country around will not be easy. It will be tough. But, we have a choice. We can go quietly into the night, accepting a dire diagnosis. Or we can roll up our sleeves and choose to fight.

Some may read this and say it’s just a story — that stories don’t give us the specific answers that we need to turn the country around. And that’s true. We won’t find bill language or groundbreaking policy ideas in life stories, or at least most of the time we won’t.

However, sometimes the stories in our lives give us the purpose and inspiration we need to move forward. They help make it a little more bearable to choose the hard things that might make our lives uncomfortable for awhile. They help guide us towards the future.

That’s why I choose to be optimistic. There is no other nation like America, and I believe that if, like Spur, we make the tough choices, we may just find that a few years from now America has more spring than ever in her step — and the world will wonder again how they ever doubted us.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see http://randyforbes.house.gov.