My Uber driver awaits outside the beautiful 1800’s home I Airbnbd for my stay in Kansas City.
He smiles and nods but says nothing. Then I notice the tiny boxing gloves dangling from his rear view mirror.
His eyes widen excitedly, “Si!”
Big smiles, conversation ensues.
Jorge migrated from Cuba to KC in search for a better life for himself and his family; he is accompanied by his wife and his youngest son. He had to leave three other children behind in the island for now. My heart breaks knowing the pain they all must feel from this separation.
He arrived to his new country and immediately began to work- long hours, arduous work.
When the pain on his back became unbearable Jorge assured himself it was all the standing up he does at work each day.
Work, pain, pain, work. Days on end convincing himself it’s his posture, perhaps a slipped disk, it’ll go away soon enough.
Until it doesn’t and a CT scan and three different doctors confirm the same diagnosis: A huge, malign tumor lodged on his kidney.
“You hear the word ‘cancer’ and you prepare to die,” he looks at me from the rear view mirror, “All I could think of was, how am I going to abandon my wife and young son here, all alone, all by themselves?”
“That’s when you realize what you’ve left behind, you know? Back in our countries,” he motions to him and I, our cultures, our shared backgrounds, “back there you have everyone! Any time, any day you can walk over to someone’s house and be welcomed. Here, we’re lucky if we know our neighbors. There, you belong. Here, we have everything but we have nothing.”
I nod knowing exactly what he means. The proverbial village. The support system, the vast network of people who are related to you by blood or by decades of family friendship.
Jorge’s story reminds me of life’s trade offs: Essentially, everything is a trade off. We trade off time for money. Maybe we trade moments with our family for furthering our education. We trade off sleeping in for time at the gym (or vice versa). Every yes to something implies a no to something else.
In Jorge’s case, his harrowing trade off- leaving part of his family behind and starting over with nothing- meant a second chance at life.
“In Cuba CT Scans… that technology… forget about it! I never would have had access to it there. As incredible as our doctors are, the technology simply isn’t there. And so this tumor probably wouldn’t have been found in time.”
Jorge’s surgery went well. His recovery was excellent. Even if in this trade off he had to wake up in a hospital bed completely alone, no chatting relatives or friends to check in on him and keep him company- as painful and lonely as that was, this trade off meant life.
And so today I’m grateful for this reminder, that agonizing decisions and difficult life situations bring with them a chance for renewal, for rediscovery, for growth.