My father had his first heart attack and a stroke at the age of 39. In an instant, the fulfillment of his life’s purpose ended. He could never return to his practice, his research was to be completed by others, and he retired from medicine. For the last 20 years, he has been a full-time dad.
Unfortunately, what I know of him as a physician was gleaned from the discretely disguised stories related in the medical jargon physicians use at neighborhood barbecues and holiday celebrations.
That was the case until two weeks ago when I finally convinced my sister to list her apartment on Airbnb for the summer. Within a few days she had an awesome tenant with whom she enjoyed a few pleasant exchanges. Then she received an email from the tenant’s mom that brought my sister to tears. I have included it below (Names & places redacted).
My name is , and my daughter, , a junior at New York University, will be your new tenant this summer. When my dear friend, , found your apartment on Air B & B, he sent me your name along with the address of the apt. Upon reading your name, I was flooded with emotion.
In 1987, I was a 27 yr old professional singer and songwriter in NYC: a blonde waif living with a longtime boyfriend, and your father’s healthy patient. That yr began happily, but by summer, while pregnant with a child I wanted, I became nearly paralyzingly exhausted and a lymph node protruded from my neck… Another doctor of mine ran blood tests and said I had the Epstein Barr virus and to absolutely not have a biopsy… But additionally, I went to your father who, in the sweetest yet firmest tone, told me I WOULD be having a biopsy, immediately. And he would be guiding me no matter the results… Within weeks I was diagnosed with a stage 3B lymphoma, a very advanced stage, and then your dad, along with his partner, Dr. , walked me through the bleakest time of my life: I would have to end the pregnancy to save my own life, and begin an arduous journey of surgeries, and chemotherapy…. It was a year of hell, and this was a long time ago in the world of chemo…
I do not say this lightly or mellow dramatically: Your father and Dr.  were like angels in my life. They treated me like gold. They sometimes did the thinking for me when I was too sick or bereft to think in my own best interest. They never made me sit for long in the waiting room… They held my hand. They found me the best oncologist in NYC, listened to all my questions and made me laugh and hugged me. I can say with sincerity, not only did they save my life, they did it like angels. I remember when you were born. And your dad had these huge, beautiful pictures of you and your brother adorning all the walls of his office…
I was told that -given the chemo at that time- I would probably never be able to conceive because all my eggs would be killed…. It was heartbreaking news. But miraculously I DID conceive and have a daughter and a son. And my beautiful girl will be living in your apartment this summer!
8 million people in the city, and our lives intersect in this way… It made me cry.
When your dad left his practice in the city it was sad for me… But and husband and I moved and raised our kids in Montana… I sure hope your parents are well and I send them my love. They knew me as …
Love to you,
Airbnb’s economic impact is obvious and has few limitations. This summer, they approach one million rooms rented each night but what will not be chronicled in the cold rationality of a milestone reached or in the countless articles written about Airbnb’s success (and what can probably never be measured) is the exhilarating, mysterious alchemy of the human experience, which they enhance. They connect people through space and time.
Our legacies are not the aggregate of what we have accomplished but rather they are the ripple effects of each and every interaction.
It is how my father has lived each day and I have been a witness to the small gifts so many have received from the seeming small kindnesses. Still, I am grateful for the small glimpse into the physician my father was that was given me by my sister’s Airbnb tenant’s mom.
Thanks pops and thanks Airbnb.