Patients who come to the cancer center for treatment find that their appointments are not always on time.  For various reasons there are times when patients find themselves looking for something to fill the time while they wait for their name to be called.  Some patients like to work on the puzzles that have been put out on tables for those who like puzzles.  I myself do not care to work on puzzles but I often go to the puzzle tables to engage patients in conversation.  Last week I saw Debra sitting by a puzzle and I kidded her.  “Debra,” I said, “You need to get to work on that puzzle.”  Debra gave me that “Are you trying to start some trouble look” and then she said, “You know my father made us work on puzzles when we were young. He would come home from work and he would look to see if any progress had been made on the puzzle that was on the table and he would say, Come on now.  You get over here right now and get this puzzle done.”  “Why did he make you work on puzzles?” I asked.  Debra said, “He wanted to teach us discipline.  He wanted us to understand that you can’t accomplish something if you don’t work at it and keep at it until the job is finished.”  Then Debra laughed and said, “You know I did the same thing to my kids.  I wanted them to learn the importance of discipline and determination so I made them set puzzles too.”

As Debra and I shared this memory of her childhood and of her life as a mother it struck me how parents teach their children valuable life lessons in so many different ways.  You can talk to your children about the importance of learning discipline.  You can model the importance of discipline by showing your children how discipline rules your work life and your personal life.  You can encourage your children to participate in sports and do well in their studies.  Or you can make your children set puzzles.

It always fascinates me how an innocent comment or a playful word intended to tweak someone you have come to know pretty well can lead to an interesting conversation.  Neither Debra or I knew that we were going to talk about learning important lessons of life when we met last week.  I’m glad we got onto the subject of puzzles.  Debra was too.

So I want to encourage everyone who reads this story to take a chance in your conversations with people.  Don’t be afraid to try some humor.  Take a chance and tweak someone and who knows but you might open the door to something that person will talk about and they will thank you for helping them to rediscover something that was important to them.  For a moment Debra forgot about her cancer and remembered the importance of her father.  And I learned another way to teach children important lessons of life.

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