For today’s post I wanted to use a piece written by my dear friend Cliff Nguyen. As I mentioned in my previous post, Cliff was one of the first people I notified of my condition. He immediately responded, concerned. A few months ago while traveling to nearby Chicago for a convention, he came to visit me in Lansing.

Cliff and I were teammates on the tennis team at Harvard. My teammates and I are all friends, but Cliff and I were particularly close for some reason. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re both very soft spoken yet idealistic at the same time; or perhaps it’s because we’re both of Asian descent. I’m not sure why, but Cliff and I developed a very close friendship that continues to this day.[1]

Cliff’s path after college was not a conventional one.[2] Without going into the minutia of his many different occupations, he has been involved in a wide array of endeavors; these include real estate and professional tennis. Now he runs a newly opened restaurant in Anaheim, California called The Sawleaf Café, a place that serves Vietnamese dishes.

Cliff's restaurant
Cliff’s restaurant

Several months ago Cliff ventured here to Lansing to pay me a visit. I asked Cliff if he would write about this visit for the blog. He agreed without hesitation. This is what he wrote:

I remember the day that I first saw Chris again after his surgery – this was approximately 13+ months after his surgery.  I was able to take my first vacation day in 11 months, coming to visit Chris after having gone to a work convention.

I had no idea what to expect, waiting at the train station that evening for him to come pick me up.  I had already had a number of different emotions over the months prior to seeing him.  I remember feeling the shock and emotion on the day I had gotten an email from him telling me that he was experiencing vision issues and that the cause turned out to be a brain tumor for which he would need surgery.  I also vividly remember an equally strong sense of shock and sadness (and guilt and regret) when discovering a year later that Chris was having after effects of delayed speech from his surgery – enough so that he was reluctant to speak with me over the phone.  Additionally, he had told me that he was frustrated with his recovery and had “essentially gone from fully functional to disabled overnight.”

Cliff and Christian
Cliff and Christian

As Fleur pulled up to the station with Chris in the passenger seat and Christian and Cormac in the back, I could feel my excitement to see them, yet prepared myself for the worst.  When Chris stepped out of the car, I realized I was totally unprepared.  I remembered him as a great, powerful athlete, but now he was moving slowly, with uncertainty and some imbalance.  But he came to give me a big, welcoming hug.  When he spoke to me, he did so carefully and deliberately, less expressively and more monotone.  You could feel that his thoughts were moving so much faster than his speech.  I was sad to see the after effects of the surgery on Chris, and I wondered to myself how this was affecting him and his family.

After spending that night and the following day with Chris however, I realized Chris’s relationship with his family was very strong.  He did everything he could and took on any role he could to support and take care of them at home.  They, in turn, loved and accepted him as he was, yet treated him as though he was fully recovered.  It was awesome to see and experience.

I was grateful for the time that I spent with him and that we were able to bond even more through one of his newer hobbies – cooking.  We were able to make some chicken pho!

My attempt at homemade pho after Cliff left
My attempt at homemade pho after Cliff left

In the end, I was reminded that what really defined Chris and what had always defined him to me was his spirit.  He is a man with a strong, resilient spirit; he is a friend with a kind, generous and supporting spirit.


[1] I am no different in that my friendship with most of my college acquaintances really ended after graduation, save for the occasional e-mail. The advent of Facebook has allowed me to keep in touch with more friends.

[2] Most people who graduated with Economic degrees went on to Wall Street for either Investment Banking or Consulting to financial companies.

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