Sunday, February 2, 2003

Finishing strong

Tuesday mornings with Tim and John at Big Boy


Anybody who met him on the street would probably think Tim Barker was just an ordinary guy.

He liked the ordinary-guy things. Loved to play golf. Loved his UC Bearcats basketball and loved his fraternity brothers from his days at UC, back when I was still in high school.

He even figured out a way to combine all three of these things into a golf outing for his fraternity, at which the main topic was UC basketball, of course.

I never played in one of those outings, but we did play golf once. It was the time of year when summer is just finishing the back nine and fall is on the first tee. I started out pretty good, then reverted to my usual hacking and slicing. Tim was just steady. He hardly paid attention to his own game, because he was so busy cheering for the rest of the foursome. The exact opposite of a club-thrower.

As I walked back to our cart on the fifth green, I saw him sitting there, turned a bit away, gripping his arm and clenching his teeth. Pain was raging through his body like a brush fire in a high wind. But he never complained.

I asked him if he wanted to bail out. "No," he said. "I'll be fine. Just give me a minute.'' And then he smiled.

Tim was on borrowed time, but he lived each day like he owned the calendar factory. In December of 2001, he was diagnosed with just about the worst news anyone can get: small-cell carcinoma. Spreading fast.

A lot of people just wilt and get ready to die when they hear news like that. Not Tim. He decided right away that he was going to fight. He didn't know how much time he would have, but he was going to make the most of every day, and the only way to do that was to stay positive. Have hope.

To Tim, feeling sorry for himself was just a foolish waste of precious time.

Tim and I met through a mutual friend, who knew Tim was looking for Answers. Not the kind a doctor or MRI could offer. He wanted the kind with a capital "A." Meaning of Life stuff.

I didn't have all the answers, but I knew where to look for them. We met nearly every Tuesday morning at the Frisch's Big Boy on Wards Corner Road. We talked about golf, friends, work, families and UC basketball, of course. But mostly we read the Gospel of John together, and tried to figure out what it meant. Imagine that. Two guys going deeper than power tools and sports.

It turned out that I was the student. And here's what I learned from Tim: Life is a gift, so treasure the moment. It's also a decision. You can decide to pity yourself and blame someone else when the clouds gather, or you can dance in the rain.

I learned that my problems were gimme putts compared to the deep bunkers of despair that other people face every day. Tim's hope lit up the world like a spring morning. His inspiring spirit kept fighting back to conquer pain, cancer, even fear of death. He found peace in faith, and hope that stretched far beyond the dark horizon.

The last time I heard from Tim, he was calling to apologize that he could not make it on Tuesday. He had just finished a treatment that had bought him 12 months last year, and he was sure his warranty had been extended for another year. "My doctor said he's never seen anyone live long enough to get two of these," he laughed.

A couple of weeks later, at the time of day when we would have been sitting over a cup of coffee and an open Bible at Big Boy, I got a call from his wife. Tim had died the day before.

He was just an ordinary guy. With a truly extraordinary heart.

E-mail pbronson@enquirer .com or call 768-8301.

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