I was still in the process of being fitted with a wireless microphone when word came that I was about to go on. That’s when I reached into my pocket for the talisman that I hoped would get me through the next 20 minutes.
It was Sunday, July 7, 2013, and I was about to deliver a closing plenary address at a national conference, the Vegetarian Summerfest, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Having given several presentations at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center in years past, the sequence of having my name called, navigating the 15 yards to the stage, and speaking to hundreds of attendees had become second nature to me. But that was then, and this was now – seven months removed from an uncomfortably close brush with my own mortality.
Not surprisingly, confronting the inevitable brings a heightened sense of urgency to one’s life. That, coupled with the fact that I was weeks away from another round of exploratory medical tests, prompted me to approach my task from a perspective I’d never before considered: “What would I say if I knew this was going to be the last speech I’d ever give?”
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At the podium, I continued to clutch the tiny amulet in my right hand — a statuette of the innocent creature I’d reference in the second of four short stories I would tell that morning, as I described my decades-long quest to fully understand the meaning of compassion.
Such a goal may be unattainable. But that’s okay. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to keep trying.