In 2012, I had an extraordinary encounter in the AMC, the Amsterdam Medical Centre. While I was awaiting treatment, a man was sitting in front of me with his back toward me. The chair he was sitting in looked unusually comfortable compared to what you would expect to see in a hospital. And there were pillows all around him.
Late in the afternoon, when all the other patients had already left, my wife and I were still waiting for my treatment. The man in the chair stood up very carefully while turning himself toward us to start a conversation. We were immediately struck by his gentle appearance. We talked about his work and mine, about being a founder and a CEO. But all too often he reminded me that before being a businessman, he was a farmer. And every time he mentioned being a farmer, his eyes started to twinkle. Not so, when he talked about being a businessman.
After a while, the conversation shifted to why he visited the hospital. He told us that six months ago he had been treated successfully for some rare form of bone cancer and sent home. So, why are you here, I asked him. He had developed an even rarer form of bone cancer, and it caused him enormous pain. Hence the pillows. I asked him if he was awaiting chemo or some other treatment. He shook his head. His condition could no longer be treated. I asked him what that meant. He continued by saying that he had just three weeks to live.
We were both completely in shock and felt incredibly sorry for him. We spoke some more but with a heavy heart. When the time came to say goodbye, we were lost for words. What do you say to someone that you know is going to die soon? As Bart walked us toward the doorway, bent forward from the pain, while holding on to his infusion pole, I stuttered: “Thank you for your inspiration, Bart.”
Bart turned around, straightening up completely, while giving me the biggest and brightest smile I have ever seen, and put his arm around me, saying: “You’re welcome”. Paused. “Do something with it”. We stepped through the doorway and as we turned toward the elevator, it hit me full in the face. This man, this kind and gentle human being, who must be in dire need of all the comfort in the world, is comforting me! The tears rolled down my cheeks and to this day, whenever I’m telling this story, the very thought brings me to tears.
A few weeks later I hurried back to the hospital with a fever of 41+ degrees. After 16 days of ongoing treatment in solitary confinement, with all kinds of lifesaving actions, I just managed to stay alive. At night, I had time to think Bart’s last words over. What is it that I’m passionate about? What is the farmer in me? What makes my eyes twinkle? In all truth, it took me several years to find the answer.
Years later, when I realized that I had only engaged a few hundred people with the work that has brought out the ‘farmer’ in me, the ROUNDMAP™, I lost all hope. Thousands of hours of work and all I had achieved was touching the hearts of a couple of hundred people. It was only after it dawned to me that Bart only needed one person to make him glow like a beacon of light in the night that I managed to appreciate every minute those few hundred people had shared with me and carried on.
In the end, the brief encounter with Bart not only changed my perspective on life and restored my trust in people but also gave me the energy to continue my journey, despite all the hardships.
In memory of Bart Gerrit Veldhuizen (†2012).