A story of friendship, brotherhood, and courage in the face of the unthinkable.
It was early spring of 2015, a day like any other. Immersed in my daily routine of work, home, and family, I got thrown off by a Facebook message from my longtime friend Nino. He lived in the south of France, in the beautiful city of Montpellier, with his son and wife. Nino and I attended college together in Morocco in the late 1990s to early 2000s. In one sentence, I would describe him as the only one out of our group of friends who truly embodied the meaning of living life to the fullest.
During the four years we spent together living in the dorms, I never saw him get upset. He always had a smile on his face. In our first year of an engineering program designed to weed out a certain percentage of the oncoming freshmen, we were constantly under the pressure of keep our grades up. It was very common for us to spend sleepless nights studying for upcoming exams. And while most of us were lit up under the effect of cheap coffee disguised by a ton of sugar, he would show up in the dorm all relaxed, smiling as if he already had a guaranteed spot in second year engineering program.
He would start telling stories and broke our focus. Out of politeness, we would force a smile but behind the smile was a strong desire for him to get out our bedroom and leave us in peace. He was different. He was the friend that was annoying but whose company I somehow always enjoyed.
Living life as if he knew his days were numbered
He was my first real example of what it means to live life to the fullest. I didn’t have a concept of it, but I witnessed him purchase a bicycle in our early years of college (this is big deal in the context of an undeveloped country) so he could explore the city of Rabat in Morocco where we were all students. At the same time, the rest of us were primarily concerned about our grades.
In our third and fourth year of engineering program, I was ultra-focused on obtaining my admission into a U.S. university. If my memory doesn’t fail me, I recall having submitted applications to more than 100 colleges and universities. As I needed a Post Office Box to receive all the documents that were being mailed to me from the USA, he was the only one I knew who had a mailbox I could use. He showed up in my dorm room several times a week to drop my packages off, always with a smile on his face. Our paths separated after I moved to the United States and he relocated to France in the early 2000s.
We reconnected about 10 years later though the magic of Facebook. In the midst of our frequent interactions, he confided to me he was diagnosed with lung cancer and was undergoing treatment.
To say that I was dumbfounded and shocked would be an understatement. How can someone who never smoked not only get lung cancer but get it at the peak of his youth in his early 30s? Nino sounded resolute and ready to fight for his health. He called it “little cancer” and assured me he will get through it.
The clock is now ticking
Two years later, he reached out because he wanted to check the USA off his bucket list and needed me to help him organize the trip and host him. At first, I was reluctant because it requir