It was a beautiful March day. But when I picked up the phone I knew that somebody somewhere was dying. It was Ann Lutgen, an Allina Hospice coordinator. As a hospice volunteer and certified massage therapist, I get called when a terminally ill patient is in need of healing touch. “We have a fifty-eight-year-old man with lung cancer,” Ann said. “He’s having trouble breathing, which causes him to panic. His family thought massage might help.” “Sure, I can see him in the next few days,” I told her. “What’s his name?” When Ann said, “Charles Potuznik,” I froze. “Oh, my God,” I thought. “That has to be Chuck.”

Twenty-two years earlier, I had worked for a volatile entrepreneur who produced a monthly newsletter to tout the investment value of the rare coins he sold. We had retained Chuck Potuznik, a savvy attorney from a well-regarded law firm, to approve the text. At Chuck’s urging, I looked into a newsletter story claiming that we had purchased a large cache of coins from the estate of a wealthy collector out West. I discovered that the story had been fabricated and told Chuck this on the phone. He was appalled. “If you’re going to tell these Little Red Riding Hood stories,” he said, “I can’t be a party to it.” He resigned on the spot. As soon as I found another job, I quit too.

I hadn’t seen or spoken to Chuck since. But even before that final conversation, he had made an indelible impression on me. It’s rare, but something just clicks into place when you meet certain people. They enter your orbit and you enter theirs. I think I only met Chuck once and spoke to him a handful of times, but in the years that followed, his name would flash in neon letters in my mind whenever I’d see a “Best Lawyers in the Twin Cities” article or overhear a conversation about corporate attorneys.

The impact Chuck made on me never faded and, in fact, may have grown stronger as time passed. I didn’t have a clue why, but I had strong sense that our paths would cross again. After Ann’s phone call, everything tumbled into place, and a peacefulness settled over me. It all made perfect sense. The time had come to complete the circle of energy that connected us.

A few days later, I arrived at Chuck’s house and was ushered to his bedroom by a family friend. Chuck was lying in bed, weak but mentally sharp. He couldn’t be moved, so the best I could do was reach behind him to massage his neck and shoulders. “That feels incredible,” he murmured as I worked. After a couple minutes, I said, “You know, Chuck, you and I go way back.” He tilted his head toward me and managed a curious smile and a subtle nod of the head—an invitation to continue.

I told him we had worked together way back when and that he had resigned the account in a phone conversation with me. He remembered. “Tell me that story,” he whispered. I did, adding that I had always considered him a model of integrity. In fact, I told him, a number of years ago, I had made a commitment to live my life with complete integrity, no matter the cost. He smiled and nodded again. As I massaged his back and arms, we spoke of the importance of living with integrity and of treating each person we encountered with love and compassion. I gently massaged him for more than an hour. Everything about our time together that day felt right. I told him I’d be back soon.

Two days later, I visited Chuck again. The pain had worsened, so he was drugged and drifting in and out of consciousness. Still, he moaned in appreciation as I massaged his neck and back. While I was rubbing him, I looked around the room. On the bedside table to my right was a photo of Chuck and his brothers, Wayne and Ken, on their last fishing trip together. Adorning the bureau and walls were photos of Chuck’s wife, Mary, and their two adolescent daughters, whom he adored. Outside the window, the afternoon sun shone down on the placid waters of Lake Minnetonka. Chuck’s world was filled with great love and beauty, yet his capacity to enjoy it was rapidly shrinking.

As I stood behind him, massaging his forehead, I whispered, “God bless you, my friend.” I didn’t think he’d heard it, but some part of him did. From his stupor, he blurted out, “Wha?” A little louder this time, I repeated, “God bless you, my friend.” Eyes closed, he nodded his head and grunted in acknowledgment.

At one point, he haltingly lifted his hand and swiped at his nose with his little finger, then dropped his arm heavily back to his side. The area under his nose had been bloodied from oxygen tubes, so his finger was smeared with blood. I picked up his hand and, as I gently wiped his finger with a tissue, marveled at the twists and turns that life can take. Not that long ago, I had been a green twenty-five-year-old, respectfully deferring to a high-powered attorney eleven years my senior. Now here I was, comforting him and caring for him in his final hours. I felt honored to be at his side and thankful for the divine force that had brought us together one more time. Three days later, Chuck passed away.

I think of Chuck often. Simply by living his life, Chuck not only inspired me to be a better man, he deepened my faith and provided me with a profound glimpse into the mysteries of the universe. The moments I spent at his bedside were sacred, and I will cherish them always.

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