If you’re reading this, then you probably already know — it’s November. The season of pumpkin flavored everything, crunchy fall leaves (but really just disappointing soggy ones thanks to Sandy) and shellacked decorative gourds and pumpkins instead of carved up ones. More than anything though, November is a month where millions of people take a day or two out of their year to think about what they are thankful for.
I saw on my Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago that a friend of mine recently became engaged. His name is Cailen, and my mother would definitely describe him as a “lost boy.” He doesn’t know his biological parents. A Seattle family adopted him and another child from an orphanage in Vancouver. He is a gangly five-feet seven-inches and weighs in at a wiry 130 pounds on any given day. He has messy unkempt hair that he calls his “mane.” It’s biblical looking. To the best of my knowledge, his wardrobe consists entirely of hiking shorts and loose t-shirts. I once saw him wearing a shirt and tie and could only think of him as a little kid who unhappily had to get dressed up for Easter at his grandma’s house.
I met Cailen when I was 10 years old at summer camp in Estes Park, Colorado, about two hours from my home. He was a couple years older than me, but we still managed to become good friends. And for several summers I looked forward to the end of July and getting to spend a month hiking with him. Even after we outgrew the summer camp phases of our lives we still did our best to stay in touch and tried to get together for a good hike or two at least once a summer if we could.
Four years ago, though, Cailen nearly died on the side of a rural Pennsylvania road in December. His heart stopped, he blacked out and he totaled his car. He ended up spending a couple weeks in the I.C.U. and then one more in the hospital as the doctors tried to determine what caused it. They were baffled and decided to put a computer chip underneath the skin on the left side of his chest to collect data for them to study. I imagine they are pretty proud of the advanced science and engineering that went into the design of the chip. Cailen is pretty proud of the fact that he can slide it around a few inches in whichever direction underneath his skin.
Somehow, despite his heart stopping unpredictably for sometimes minutes at a time, Cailen manages to not show the effects of whatever it is that affects him. I’d be hard pressed to think of a time when Cailen wasn’t smiling. He might look tired after a particularly difficult evening with his heart, but besides the computer chip in his chest and the fact that he is no longer allowed to have a driver’s license, you might not even know he was sick if you didn’t know already.
We aren’t a close as we used to be. It is probably a product of both of our lives getting busier and our inability to meet up for a week or so in Colorado every summer. I will still send him an email every now and then, and he wrote “Happy birthday Smalls” on my Facebook a couple weeks ago. (I am as tall as he is now … the nickname “Smalls” might need to be reevaluated.) And although Cailen is no longer as involved in my life as he once was, I was still extremely happy when I found out he is engaged. Cailen had every right in the world to be upset with the cards dealt to him. His heart was failing on him at age 23, and he never let it get to him. In his mind being angry would do nothing to help resolve the issue, so instead he just decided to be grateful that he was alive. Cailen found a way to enjoy everything in his life and took every challenge he came across in stride.
November brings a lot. Daylight Savings (my favorite holiday) gives us an extra hour of sleep for one night; prelim season makes its triumphant return to many of our lives; and a lot of us get to go home and see our families. I urge everyone though to not let the spirit of Thanksgiving get lost in all of the chaos that surrounds it. At the risk of sounding cliché, I urge everyone to take at least some time out of their month to be thankful for something in their lives. We are at Cornell. We go to a school with a beautiful campus, get instruction from extremely accomplished professors, and get to walk to and from class in the driving rain (thanks again, Sandy) uphill both ways. At the very least be thankful that we can complain to our eventual grandchildren about that. If Cailen is able to deal with his heart condition and manage to compare the lyrics of Biggie Smalls to the writings of Ernest Hemingway while dangling his feet over a glacial pond, then I’m sure all of us can find something to be grateful for.
Christo Eliot is a sophomore in the College of Engineering. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Tale of the Dingo at Midnight appears alternate Thursdays this semester.