My parents are immigrants. Both learned English as a second language.
This naturally leads to moments where a specific heartfelt sentiment takes an unexpected turn as the mental prose is converted from one language to another with an incomplete grasp of the subtleties of the non-native vocabulary.
Dad studied electrical engineering but pursued a career in business. Consequently his technical vocabulary is precise, and he often peppers his casual conversation with unusual word choices.
Fast forward to the past weekend, when my mom threw Dad a 75th birthday party that drew 40 local friends. While they expressed surprise at the quantity of fragile memories, walkers and wheelchairs that now constitute their peers, it was more than counterbalanced with an abiding sense of gratitude.
Shortly after they were married, my Dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins' lymphoma. It happened less than a year before I was born. It was the early 1970s and newly effective treatments were being pioneered at academic medical centers.
Although my parents lived in Southern California at the time, my father was referred to an oncologist at Stanford to devise a course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that would be implemented closer to home at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.
Mom recalls arriving for one of his Stanford appointments newly pregnant with me, and being pulled aside by the oncologist. He thought it his duty to let her to know there was a real possibility that the child she carried might not grow up with a father.
Interesting coincidence#1: Decades later, 3 of his 4 children and his 2 nieces would attend Stanford as undergraduates.
Interesting coincidence #2: As a resident in emergency medicine, I rotated through Cedars-Sinai Hospital. I sought out the beloved radiation oncologist my father had recalled as a bastion of encouragement during his illness.
He confided a sense of wonder that my medical education had brought me to the hospital that helped to save my father's life. He called my dad after our meeting and they had a long and wonderful opportunity to catch up by phone.
Dad was reflecting on all of this history - the devastating diagnosis early in his marriage, his recent 50th anniversary spent with children and grandchildren, and the gray (or altogether absent) hair of the friends before him as he began a brief, tearful thank you speech:
"I feel so lucky to be erect in front of you right now..."
He brought the house down.