There was a new face that started showing up at different Art with Heart events. Jana pulled me aside, pointed and said, That's Bruce. You gotta meet him. He's got a heart of gold and he could be a huge help to you...
And so, over the course of that year, I got to know Bruce. He was a complex man – rough around the edges. He could embarrass the heck out of you, and then make you feel proud to know him at the same time. He was very generous with his time, advice, and personal wealth. As our friendship grew, I found that his generosity sprang from a deep well.
Before he was eight, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. The disease and its related complications plagued him throughout his entire life. He faced heart problems, deteriorating kidneys, and pancreatic cancer. After many unsuccessful attempts to repair his declining health, doctors ran out of options, save one.
A double transplant was his only hope – to see if Bruce's body could start again and finally cure him of his diabetes. It would be the first transplant of its kind in the state of Washington – but the surgery was not without major risks or additional complications. It was on the hospital gurney that he made a deal.
If I get through this, I'll live life differently. I'll help kids. I'll do whatever it takes. Just help me through this...
As Bruce slowly recovered, he spent the next six years fervently fulfilling his promise. He became Art with Heart’s first Board President after we seceded from AIGA, spreading the word to everyone he came across.
I remember a particular lunch meeting with Bruce. I had been working 50+ hours a week for months, and was feeling exhausted and under-appreciated. I must have been fishing for compliments to buoy my flailing mood because he offered up this story...
When I was 18 years old, I got a job as a lifeguard at a beach. I was vigilant – always watching, never slacking. One day, I saw a 13 year old struggling. She was pretty far out, so I had to swim quite a length to get her. She was frantic and started pulling me under. Somehow we made it back to shore, where a small crowd had gathered. Her dad rushed to her side and carried her off. The crowd dispersed. I was left alone, kind of crushed. No hero's welcome? No pats on the back?
Later, I complained to my boss, 'Hey, I just saved that girl's life and I don't even get a simple thank you?' He looked at me and said, 'Son, you were doing your job.'
I tell you this Steffanie, because what you are doing is its own reward. The praise of your peers isn't going to be something you can count on. Just keep doing it and treasure it all in your heart. You are changing lives and that's thanks enough.
I miss Bruce and to this day am inspired by his commitment to making his life count. He has been gone now for five years, but he continues to live in the work that I get to do every single day – with or without compliments.