By Ellen Meder
Edited by Sam Barker
Julia Colson's schedule is packed. Mondays, she volunteers as a chaplain at White Oak Manor. Three Tuesdays a month she delivers Meals on Wheels. Wednesdays, she's a volunteer chaplain at Palmetto Baptist Hospital. Thursdays, she teaches two English as a second language classes. Fridays, she gives free English tutoring sessions.
On Sundays, Colson, 84, rests – but only after church.
During her rare free time, Colson runs errands – and attends to doctor's appointments and radiation therapy, now that the lung cancer diagnosed a year ago has spread to her brain. She won't do chemotherapy, however; it's more debilitating, and that would just slow her down from giving comfort to others.
Colson began working with Meals on Wheels 15 years ago, after the death of her husband of 45 years left her with a lot of time to fill. Now, she has hundreds of friends around the world and keeps up with them through e-mail and Skype.
"I feel like the Lord has not replaced my husband, but has given me wonderful people to fill the void that was left by him," Colson said.
Helen Chao has been friends with Colson for 10 years. On a recent trip to the United States from her home in Taiwan, Chao made sure to spend time with her "adopted grandmother" and even went volunteering with her.
"I love Julia because she's different than other Americans," Chao said. "She's always very joyful. She always looks so happy and never complains to others."
But, Colson refuses to believe what she does is anything out of the ordinary.
She sat down recently with The Carolina Reporter to talk about her experiences. Parts of the interview have been edited for brevity.
At 84, many people feel, you know, you've done your life's work, maybe it's time to rest. What makes you different and drives you to volunteer so frequently?
Part of it is selfishness, because I enjoy it. When I get sick and can't do it, I feel I've missed a blessing by not doing it. The main reason is, as a Christian, I am supposed to be out here being busy, working for the Lord. But there's a second reason, because I know the people I help need somebody and I get a blessing out of it and they become like my family. …
When you were diagnosed with cancer last year, why did you choose radiation therapy over the more conventional chemotherapy route?
Well, as I told the doctor, I don't want to prolong this thing. I know cancer is a bad stuff. My mother and father and husband all died with cancer, so I've seen the ravages of cancer and I'd rather have quality life than quantity life.
So I just told the doctor ... let it do its thing and let's don't do any kind of treatment for it other than just pain relief, and it was early in the stage. ... At this age I've had a good life and I don't want to string it out.
What are your feelings about the inevitability of death?
Ooh! I'm looking forward to it. That may sound strange, but it is. As a Christian you know that God has promised you a place in heaven and that you'll have a much better place than where we are now. They'll be no cancer, there'll be no devil up there, and it will be perfection.
And so every day I'm ready for the Lord to call me home any day. I don't want to leave my family and loved ones, and I have so many wonderful friends, but it's inevitable for all of us. One day every single one of us are going to face death, and so it's just my time; it's getting closer to that time, and so it's fine, I'm looking forward to it.
What's one thing you might have done a little bit differently throughout your life?
You're asking hard questions.
I had such a good life. I wouldn't change any of it. I can't think of any. I married a wonderful man; he was a great husband, a great father. I had wonderful parents. Of course there were problems. Everyone has problems. But I don't know of anything I would've changed if I could go back. ...
I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I just enjoy what I do. And so I don't want you to make it appear that I'm this Miss Goody Goody who's trying to tell everybody they ought to do all this. I think they ought to do it for their own good because it would help them if they did. But please, don't make me into this 84-year-old woman who's doing all this is someone special. I'm no more special than anybody.
Well, in the interest of not appearing to be perfect, like many of us might think, what's one thing about yourself you wish you did better maybe, or that you feel is sort of a weak spot?
Through the years – developing patience ... I told Helen I was a pouter the times I didn't get my way. I've learned to be more patient as the years go by and God is so patient with me, how could I be otherwise? ...
People are so kind now that I'm old! They are so good to me. I tell you it's wonderful to be old. I enjoy being old; people just do so many nice things for me and I feel really beholden to everybody who has done so much kindness. During the 35 radiation treatments I had for seven weeks, one every day, there was food brought in here. I did not cook anything. ... Now isn't that wonderful? People have just been so good to me. And I don't deserve it.
That just goes to prove that there are a lot of good people. We hear only the bad things that people do. I could write a book on the good things that people do.