My cell phone buzzed. It was John Baltes – I decided to take the call. “Hi John, thanks for calling back! Just a minute.” I knew this would likely be my last conversation with him.
I was in the middle of an online training session teaching an American Cancer Society recruiter how to use one of our interviews. She was learning to listen for excellence in candidates who want to raise money for the mission against cancer. How appropriate, John was dying of cancer. I had dedicated this training in honor of John. Yvonne graciously understood my need to take a break from the training so I could talk with John.
“It’s good to hear your voice, John.” I said.
“Well, I’m here. It hasn’t been a good day.” He replied. I asked about his family and listened to him speak lovingly about each of them.
I continued, “I really appreciate your call. In fact right now I am training an ACS recruiter on the interviews I told you about. As I help recruiters listen more effectively to candidates, I sometimes gather the perspective of people they ultimately serve – cancer patients. I want to put your thought at the beginning of the ACS interviews to remind recruiters of what is most important as they interview. What advice would you give them?”
Without hesitation John replied, “Be present. Be present in the conversation.”
I was really trying to “be present” on this call, but my mind was spinning. How could I focus when my childhood friend was dying? I asked a couple clarifying questions to make sure I understood.
“Just be present in the conversation.” John patiently and gently responded. After a pause, he continued, “Cancer patients are all at a different place in their journey. Be present where each one is at right now.”
My mind became more quiet. I finally accepted what he was saying. “You’re right.” I offered. This is the type of calm, clear advice consistent with his approach to family, faith, work, and life in general. After a few more minutes of delightful reminiscing, I could tell he was getting tired. As brothers in Christ, I knew we would see each other again someday – but my voice wavered as I said “Goodbye, John. Thanks for calling.”
“Be present. Be present in the conversation.” Thank you, John. I’ll pass it on.