Friday, April 1, 2011

The Pursuit of Perfection in a world plagued with randomness


“No! I don’t want it there. I said put it near the bedside table. Jeez if there was incompetence meter this floor would be off the charts!” He complained. His voice was in a controlled rage, and his face was flushed with disgust.
“Sorry Mr. Williams, I’ll take care of that.” The 24-year-old nurse barely 5 feet tall scurried to the commands.
“You know, I am on the Board of this hospital. Don’t you?”
“Yes Mr. Williams. The entire nursing staff has been made aware.” She stated sheepishly with both her hands clasped in front of her in anticipation of the next demand.
“So when will I get my own private room?”
“Mr. Williams they are working on it right now. As soon as one is available on the fifth floor suite level, you will be transferred.”
“Okay.” He simmered a little but his eyes still darting to the barrier curtain, behind where he could hear the labored breathing of the individual on the other side.
“I don’t want to be disturbed by any visitors except my doctor. You hear?”
“Yes Mr. Williams, I will make sure of that.” The nurse finding an exit strategy hastened out of the room.

John Williams, CEO of a major enterprise, a self-made millionaire catapulted to the ranks of the “rich and famous” and on the Board of many large corporations now lay in a hospital bed sharing a room with another human being he had not laid his eyes on behind the barrier curtain, with a diagnosis of stage III lung cancer.
“So you are the Mr. Williams?”
“And who are you?”
“Nobody.” The other man replied.
“Then I wish not to further our conversation.” John stated emphatically.
“Okay, if that is what you wish.” The hoarse voice whispered back.
John put his headphones on and calmed himself with his favorite music as his mind and heart raced to determine how this would end. He knew numbers and had discussed with several doctors from various institutions. His collective information had determined that the treatment he was about to embark upon was the best option for survival. His thinking was interrupted by the wisp of cigarette smoke that entered his olfaction.  He pulled his headphones off looked around. There was no one around.

“Are you smoking over there?”
“Yes.” Came the hoarse voice back.
“You know you are not allowed to smoke with oxygen and all.”
“Yeah, I know, but when you have the whole life staring back at you only from the past, who cares.” The voice replied.
John intrigued and also drawn to the smell of the cigarette smoke that he had recently foresworn never to touch. The magnetic pull was too much to resist.
“Hey, you have another one?” John asked.
“Sure, Mr. Williams.” And the curtain parted to reveal a thin, bald, stubble-faced man with slits for eyes and a bulbous nose leaned over and handed John a cigarette.
“Thanks. Say what brings you here and how do you know my name?”
“Cancer.” He replied and with deliberate pause he said, “Everyone knows about you. You are the big shot around here. All the nurses are abuzz about you.”
“What kind?” John ignored the other comment.
“Lung cancer.”
“Have you been getting treatment for it?” John inquired.
“Oh yes. They said it was the best treatment under the sun. And maybe it is.”
“What treatment?”
The man outlined what he had gone through for the past one year. “ I am living though. I was able to see my grandchild marry and have a baby.”
“Good for you.” John said as he lit his cigarette.
“Now don’t blow the smoke up, you have to blow it into the vent, otherwise the alarms will go off. I’ll watch out for you.” The man shuffled his way to the door to keep watch.
“What’s your name?”
 “Nice to meet you Kenny, I am John.” He inhaled the smoke, “Boy does that feel good.”
John’s phone buzzed and he barked a few orders into it. “Everything has to be precise. We must aim for perfection,” and threw the phone back on the table.
“You know,” John said as he exhaled a perfect halo of smoke, “People do not understand the nature of industry. I believe in aspiring for perfection, every time, all the time. The more you aim the closer you get.”

“My little world is full of randomness. Perfection, in my world can never be achieved because life is too full of a gazillion variables.” Kenny said softly, but loud enough for John to hear.
“Well if you don’t aspire for it, you’ll never achieve it. That is my motto.”
“And a good one at that.” Kenny replied.
There was a pause as both men considered their options of whether to continue or not. Kenny slid to the side and allowed the wall to hold up his frame with both his hands in his robe pockets.
“Well this is a hell of time for this problem.” John moaned. “I have a large government contract to complete in the next two months and they are bickering about paperwork when they should be putting their energies into completion.”
“Don’t worry things have a habit of taking care of themselves.” Kenny replied. “I always told my kids to do their best.” He lingered a little and then added, “That was my motto.”
“Certain things one has to take care of oneself.” John muttered.
“Give them the reins and they might surprise you.” Kenny offered.
“Not this one, I need to do it.”
“Then you shall.” Kenny replied softly.

“So Kenny what do you do?” John asked between billowing puffs of smoke that threatened to turn the alarm on and he flailed his arms about to dissipate them.
“Nothing.” Kenny replied.
“No I mean what did you do?”
“Oh! Construction.”
“Really.” John reflected, “Anyway the doc says, I have a stage III lung cancer. He plans to give me some treatment to shrink the tumor and then remove all of it with surgery.”
“That’s what they did for me.” Kenny mused.
“Yeah. It worked like a charm initially.”
“What do you mean initially?” John asked with a feeling of tightness in his throat, fearing the answer.
“It came back.”
“So you are still getting treatment?”
“No! just here to get my systems streamlined and then out in  the world again.”
“You sound happy, though.”
“Definitely. I learned the hard way of fighting and stressing and worrying, that none of that pays off,” Kenny turned to John and looked him straight in the eyes, “I learned to live my life.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t care how much time there is and there is a lot more then I thought initially, so whatever there is left, I want to make the most of it.”

Both fell silent for a while. John continued to drag on the diminishing length of the cigarette. Kenny continued to hold up the wall, both in repose. Silence prevailed as both isolated in their own thoughts mulled over their own lives.

“Mr. Williams, good to see you again. Just wanted to let you know we have a private room for you.” The resident a young man in his twenties stood there with a beaming smile.
John looked up and then at Kenny who continued to stare out the door.
“You know what doc, I’d like to stay here with my roommate. Is that okay?”
“Sure if that is what you both prefer.”  The resident retreated.

“So Kenny what is your next step?”
“I am taking a trip to Portugal with family and my great-grand daughter.” Kenny’s eyes lit up as he spoke.
“Great grand daughter! I didn’t think you were that old.”
“My daughter had her first at 18 and her daughter had hers at 19 and my Susie is 14 now.”
“Me, I have three kids, all busy with their corporate lives. I barely get to see them.”
“That’s a shame.” Kenny looked over. “In the past one and half year, I have realized what a blessing children are.” In fact my son now takes care of the business and I enjoy them.”
“I hope I get to see your Susie.” John reflected.
“No, I don’t think so. I have told my family not to see me while I am in the hospital. I want their memories of me to remain good.”

“Kenny, you mind sharing your phone number with me, I’ll give you mine, maybe we can stay in touch through this?” John said, his voice almost apologetic.
“John, this is a battle you have to fight on your own terms. Nothing I say or do change any of that. I usually don’t do that. And some day you will understand.”

Kenny was discharged from the hospital the next day. On John’s third visit for his treatment and before surgery, Kenny was readmitted and per John’s standing orders they were paired again in the same room. Kenny appeared a little tired but still up to stealing a cigarette.
“How has it been going?” Kenny asked.
“Pretty good. I go for surgery in six weeks and then off to a trip to some island, the name I cannot pronounce. All my kids and grandchildren are coming. That will be a first.”
“I remember you had this huge contract you were worried about. What happened to that?”
“Taken care. My associate is handling it and very well, I might add.” John looked over to Kenny and said, “Thanks to you.”
“Good for you John.” Kenny remarked, his eyes twinkled as he said the words.
“I owe it to you, buddy, all to you. You opened my eyes to what is real. Thanks.”
“No, you just opened your eyes.”

John was discharged the next day while Kenny stayed hospitalized undergoing his management.
It was six months later at one of the hospital board meetings that John inquired about his friend Kenny.
“Oh you mean Mr. Kenneth McCleary. He is home.”
“Doc did you say Kenneth McCleary of the KM Construction company?”
“Yes that’s him.”
“I didn’t know that. That is one of the largest company’s in the country.”
“The very same.” The doctor replied. By the way Mr. Williams we have Mr. Johnson being admitted today. Are you up for a roommate or would you like to be alone this time?
“Room mate definitely.” John replied. “And what has he got?”
“That is privileged but you may ask him when he comes in.” The doctor left the room.
The man being wheeled in was already on the phone having a prolonged discussion as he climbed into his bed with the phone attached to his hand and ear. He continued to ramble with directions and orders and cajoling and peacemaking to what appeared to be one of his coworker.
“Hi.” John said.
The man did not reply. John new exactly the mental framework he was going to be involved with for the next couple of days

Life revolves around perspectives. The same reality changes when we see it through a different lens. What seems odd might make sense, what makes sense one time might seem bizarre and ludicrous another time. Every person carries a sense of perspective, tainted by the color of the lens the world is viewed through. The reality is the same, just difference of a viewpoint. In a moment of unselfishness what was coveted now devolves into immaterial and what seemed for granted evolves into life itself.

We perceive our reality from the color of our viewpoint. Changing the viewpoint changes our reality. Nothing is fixed, save that prejudice that haunts our mind.

1 comment:

  1. Great story! Sometimes even the most intelligent and successful of business men forget about the importance of life.

    Life is not always about work. It is about happiness and achieving perfection that way.