Andy’s Handshake

During my 500 mile walk on the Camino de Santiago, people drifted in and out of my life on a regular basis.  In the infancy of the journey, I had a hard time saying goodbye to friends.  The life lesson learned is that although relationships end, the important part is to appreciate the time that person was in your life.

Last October, a good friend asked me to pinch hit and drive her friend to the YMCA. Andy was diagnosed with brain cancer five years ago and relies on others to take him for his weekly  exercise.  From the moment we met, I knew in my head and heart that this was a special person.  His wife calls him the energizer cancer bunny.  I am sure he has moments of despair, but my time with him is always uplifting.  Andy is one of those rare people that sees the glass as overflowing and has contagious gratitude for each and every day.

Eight weeks ago, the chemo stopped and hospice came to his home.  I was in California and was hoping for a chance to see him.  Well, the energizer defied all odds and today was my day.  For the past eight weeks, Andy lies in a mechanical bed in his daughter’s bedroom.  His loving wife, Karen, sleeps on a mattress outside his door. The eldest daughter commandeered the master suite.  The room is decorated with photos, Idaho wilderness maps are taped to the wall, and a lone sign faces the bed. His motto reads:  “family, faith, and friends.”    Today he said, “I have been thinking about this three legged stool and added another.  My new leg is purpose.  We all need to find our purpose.”

There is no way for me to stop the ugliness of cancer.  I feel immense gratitude to call this man my friend.  The following is a note written by a man that has known Andy for many moons.  Andy’s purpose is obvious to all those that cross his path.

Andy’s Handshake
I can’t tell you Andy and I are best friends. We’re not. I can’t even tell you about the awesome things
we’ve done together and times we’ve shared. We’ve never even done any cool dad activities like going
fishing or biking or skiing together. We’ve talked about it, but it never came to pass. We know about
each other kids, our vacations, funny stories from our pasts, where we grew up and went school and
that sort of thing.  Of course, we can blame the depth of our friendship on the fact that our kids don’t match up and don’t
go to the same schools, or that we aren’t in the same neighborhood, or the classic; that we’re too busy
with our lives (e.g. cleaning garages, helping with homework). Anyway, for not spending that much time
together I can tell you we are friends and I he is one of my favorite people of all time. And I know I’m
not alone. Those who count Andy as a friend must be endless.  Boise is small enough that people and families seem to overlap in one circle or another.
Andy and I haveprobably known each other for 10-12 years. We see each other at parties. We run into each other in
McCall or we get to catch up at the girl’s appointments. I may be wrong, but I first remember meeting
Andy and Karen in McCall on the dock just when they came to Boise to work with Mike Ferry.
So how do I know were friends and how did he become one of my favorite people? Here it is…
Here’s what always sticks with me. Every time we meet up. Every time. I would get one of the most
genuine and sincere greetings possible. From the second he sees you, Andy lights up with his easy smile
and his knowing, smiling eyes. It would be impossible to not feel his warmth and sincere desire to “pull
you in” and connect for a conversation. How long the conversation will be; one minute or 30 or 90 is
hard to know but you can be sure however long that Andy is committed to you during that entire
conversation. He’s not going to be distracted by anything. He not going to be scanning the room or
setting for another conversation. He right there and he’s interested in you and your world and sharing
his.  What does that mean to “pull you in”? Its hard to explain, but I suspect you already know. I have
always felt Andy is more interested in others and he wants them to feel appreciated. This is paired with
Andy’s casual confidence that lets you know he is comfortable with himself, not cocky or better that
you, just that he’s good with himself. He’s not going to try to impress you with his accolades, his
accomplishments, or his position. He’s not.  All this combined with Andy’s handshake. You know it. Right? Palm up. Fingers to the sky. His hand low
and close to his body. It’s easy. It’s confident. It’s sincere. It’s friendly. It’s not-dominating, but
welcoming. He basically saying “put ‘er there ol’ pal”. Andy has such a great and memorable
handshake. I really can’t think of one that I like better.
I did some poking around on the internet about handshakes and what they mean. I found there is a lot
of resources. And the lot of research that has been done. All the way up to the MIT Journals. In breif,
I found that the open palm, low or lesser hand shake shows that persons humility and a willingness to
serve. I think that sounds pretty much spot on for Andy’s handshake.
Since the cancer and all of the treatments, Andy has never wavered. Here’s a man, a peer, in the throes
of a major battle with brain cancer and he still exudes his simple confidence, his happiness, his interest
in others and life’s simple pleasures (e.g., family, old stories, cars). Amazingly, he still manages to
maintain his grace so that its not about him and his cancer. It’s really about two friends getting together
and sharing stories and anecdotes about their lives. In retrospect and in light of the battle, he has been
a master of keeping people like me focused away from the ‘elephant in the room’. What make this all
the more brilliant is that I don’t think he is really trying to re-focus my attention but that he sincerely is
more interested in his friends and family just like always. Recently, we met again at the One Stone
event. I can’t tell you how excited I was to run into Andy. Same smile. Same eyes. Same handshake.
Same ability to “pull me in” for 10 or 20 minutes. I can’t recall the details of our conversation but it
wasn’t about cancer or new lesions or any of that. We talked and laughed about family, kids, and my
VW bus project. It was fantastic.
I don’t really know how to finish so I’ll leave it with this. Andy’s handshake is unforgettable. And the
handshake is always just the beginning of spending a little time with Andy which is always great.
– John Slattery