This time of year, I do a lot of thinking about the many things that I am grateful for—I have a job that I love, fantastic colleagues that challenge me and make me laugh, and a loving, supportive family. All these things combined give me a tremendous sense of joy that I am truly thankful for.
Each year at the thanksgiving table, my family goes around and plays the “Thankful” game. For those of you not familiar with the game, we share 1 more thing that we are thankful for this year. It can be anything, from a new pair of shoes to falling in love – something that has put a smile on their face and brought them joy.
Each year, there is one particular person that I think about and thank in one way or another (you’ll understand what I mean later on).
It was in January of 2018 that I noticed a car repeatedly driving past my house.
This was unusual for two reasons. First, I live on a quiet street, so cars don’t go by all that often. Second, I just had a gut feeling—something about it stood out to me. There was no reason for me to think—at least initially—that it was anything more than someone a little lost and searching for their destination. And, even if it was something more sinister, I had no reason to think that I was the target of whoever was in that car.
One day, after getting into my own vehicle in preparation to leave the house, I saw the same car out of the corner of my eye once again. There was no doubt this time that it was slowing down as it got nearer to my property. In fact, it stopped right in front of my driveway. My thoughts raced, wondering who this could be. On the one hand, what criminal would approach me so brazenly? On the other hand, what legitimate business could involve casing my house for weeks? I felt my heart beat faster than normal, waiting for what would happen next, but nothing did. Our two cars were parked perpendicular to one another, and seconds—that seemed like minutes—passed with us in a sort of vehicular standoff.
Finally, I thought to myself, “Brendan, you’ve made a career around the idea of being fearless. Now go see what this person wants.” So, I did. And I thought I was as prepared as I could be for whatever was waiting for me. I was wrong.
As I approached the stranger’s car, the window rolled down. Inside was a man older than me with a white beard—a great one, I might add. I nodded and smiled as I moved closer, but he just stared back.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked.
I didn’t and it seemed like a strange question. I felt less nervous now but just as confused because I had no clue what kind of situation I had suddenly found myself in. I decided to try to cut through the tension by responding with humor.
“Santa?” I said. “You’d be a bit late, if so.”
The man chuckled.
“Nope,” he said, “I’m Pete Cadwell.”
I repeated his name out loud, stalling for time in case some long-buried memory was trying to claw its way up for air. It did sound familiar, but I couldn’t seem to place why.
“Yep,” he replied. “I saved your life when you were born.”
I was born July 30, 1969 – two months ahead of schedule. Weighing in at under two pounds, I had a fight ahead of me.
Even with nurses at my bassinet around the clock and doctors massaging my heart to keep it beating, I wasn’t expected to make it. Which is why, on the day of my birth, I was also baptized, confirmed, and given my last rites. Part of the reason had to do with my mother and I sharing a relatively rare Rh-negative blood type—I needed a lot of it, but there wasn’t much available.
My parents were never going to give up, though, and a radio and television campaign was quickly undertaken in the hope of finding willing donors. Miraculously, it did—seven of them, up and down the East coast. One of them was none other than Pete Cadwell.
All of this came rushing back to me on hearing Pete’s words.
“Oh my God, Pete,” I said, “You were one of my donors!”
He nodded. I felt overwhelmed. I still didn’t know why Pete was in my driveway or had chosen now for us to meet, but those things weren’t in my mind, just the realization that I was staring at one the people to whom I literally owed my life. In some jumble of emotional, mixed-up words, I must have managed to ask him what he was doing there.
“You know, Brendan,” he said, “I’ve been driving past your house for about five years now.”
I asked him where he lived, now wondering how I could have only noticed in the last few weeks, and his answer—that his home was just down the street—floored me. I recall wondering why Pete had never come by before, and he explained that he’d never felt the need, but that he’d seen me playing with my kids and he knew all about my career. He told me that he’d kept track of me while I was growing up and kept an eye on what was happening in my life.
In any other circumstance, I’m sure I would’ve been at least a little creeped out. But for some reason I wasn’t. Instead, I was stuck processing how someone could know so much about me, when I knew nothing about them, and what it must have meant for Pete to be watching me all these years. I was speechless, actually, but once again, Pete saved me.
“Something about today,” he said, “I just really wanted to stop and talk to you.”
So, we talked. We took a selfie together—something I’m not prone to do usually—and I made it clear he was welcome back anytime.
Much more recently, I recognized Pete’s wife as we passed one another on the street where we all lived. Pete never did come back around so I flagged her down and asked her how he was doing and whether they would like to come by.
Sadly, she shared with me that Pete had died just one month after stopping at my house to introduce himself—on Valentine’s Day 2018.
Like I mentioned before, I have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve gotten a lot of breaks in life. I always try to repay them, or pay it forward. I try to be positive, thankful, and fearless, because the way I see it, I’ve already won just by being here, given the awful odds I started out with.
So, while I am no longer able to thank Pete in person, for what he did all those years ago, each year, I think of him. I think of what he gave me – my life – and think of what I can do to appreciate that. I say “thank you” to Pete by being the best version of myself, by enjoying time with my family and friends and by helping those around me be the best version of themselves.
This Thanksgiving think about Pete, think about those people and moments in your life that you are thankful for and that helped shape you. Do something to honor them.