Authentic Eagles: John DeLorenzo on Making it Count

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic individuals.

John DeLorenzo, CSOM '15

The idea that any moment could be our last is jarring. It is a thought that seizes the nerves in my stomach. People come and go as the snow, which seems everlasting in the winter, yet melts away on the ground below our feet in the spring. It is so easy to take for granted the little moments that mean everything in retrospect, so easy to become limited by the triviality of our existence, and lose sight of the significance of its brevity. These facts of life can be unforgiving - all the more reason to dash regret against the wall and make every breath count. As the late Robin Williams said in Dead Poet’s Society, “Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

There is a slideshow of pictures that loops endlessly in the family room of my Valley Cottage, New York home. Each time a picture of me and my father appears on this slideshow I smile, and consider what my life would have been like had he been taken from me the way everyone expected thirteen years ago.

When I was just eight years old, my dad’s digestive system became plagued by an affliction with diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is an intestinal disorder that, typically, isn’t much cause for concern in the medical world. It is fixed by a few hours of simple surgery, and subsequent weeks of recovery. My dad, a man for whom luck comes only in the shadow of misfortune, experienced neither the simplicity of the surgery nor the painlessness of recovery. After the procedure, my dad began experiencing heavy blood loss and organ failure, problems which doctors and nurses struggled to solve. On top of that came nasty infections, and life-threatening allergic reactions to every medicine that could possibly fight those infections. Within a few days, my father was helplessly withering away with no promise from doctors, and my mother, still by his side, was there to hear his dying wishes as his lungs began to fail.

Not long after, I was on my way to the hospital for what unknowingly could have been my final moments with my best friend, and biggest hero. I remember bits and pieces of the visit, most vividly the car ride to the hospital with my siblings – still, somber and silent. I am the youngest by five years, so I was likely the only one too young to have been told about the severity of my father’s condition. Thus, the silence that stood in for the laughter so typical of our times spent together was dreadful and confusing.

I marched in beat with the hurried rhythm of my siblings, down the bleak hospital hallways as the fluorescent lights, pale walls and alien smells combined to create the greatest discomfort imaginable. After what seemed like days, we arrived at his room in the intensive care unit. He was white as a ghost and barely able to speak.

“Hey, bud. What’s goin’ on,” he mustered out weakly. To my ears, his voice had the dissonance of crashing waves. I stared at the odd rubber tubes protruding from his nostrils as our conversation faded into the humming of the hospital machines. The gravity of our time spent together was hijacked by the innocence of my eight year old mind. It was only several minutes before a nurse intruded and forced us to leave the room. I continued to follow the lead of my siblings, as we retreated home.

Looking back on this experience with mature eyes, I am reminded that life is unpredictable, that any given moment could be our last, any given interaction a goodbye. How would I feel today if, in thinking of my last memory with my father, I could only remember the emptiness of our words and the paleness in his color? I live my life loving every second I spend with my loved ones, never going to bed angry or parting ways on bad terms because, I am forever elated to say, I was blessed with a second chance.

Just a few days following my visit with my father, his infections receded, his loss of blood ceased and his vital organs awoke from dormancy. For reasons unknown, my dad got better. He simply recovered, shedding his hospital gown to return home. For months to follow, he remained chained to an IV pole in clothes that were now two sizes too big.

I will forever see this as a miracle. Not a work of God or a spiritual intervention, but a mystifying feat of the universe – inexplicably letting me keep my dad as if to say, “John, this is what it would have felt like to regret. Live so that you never experience such pain.”

When loved ones get sick it's easy to succumb to the idea that you have to start making up for lost time. It’s in this same way that we start to cross off items on our “BC Bucket Lists,” only when senior year is upon us, as opposed to three years prior. Of course, there’s so much more to making every moment count than just saying “I love you” at the end of a conversation, or hugging a friend goodbye. Sure, those things come with the territory, but it’s the way I’ve learned to live every day like the last that reinforces the lessons taught by the near loss of my father.

I don’t want to look back on four formative years of college and think “Damn, I should have done that.” I don’t want my 30th birthday to pass by as I wonder what I forgot to do in my twenties. Instead of living in fear of separation, of change, I want to know when I hit the pillow each night that I made the day count.

I try my hardest to make it count, to gain life from each and every moment. To me, that means shrugging my shoulders to the people who say I can’t do it, and doing it anyway. It means looking behind me and smiling at the friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had. It’s the precious hours spent with family -- laughing at the dinner table on Sunday nights, with nothing to pull us apart but the ticking of the clock. It’s spontaneous joy rides with my dad in his Mustang. It’s trying out for the a cappella groups I never would have thought to be interested in. It’s going on a spiritual retreat, despite placing no credence in its value, and learning just how important it is to reflect on the beauty of life. It’s about immersing myself in an unfamiliar culture in Parma, Italy, where the language was strange, and the people were strangers. It’s the jitters in my stomach and the sweat on my palms when I stand behind a microphone with nothing but a guitar and my voice. It’s stopping in the middle of the quad at eleven o’clock on a snowy December night, alone with myself and my thoughts, and taking it all in. It’s these moments in life – both big and small, ordinary and transitory – that come together in the end to make it all count.