We first met Kári Örn Hinriksson and his wife Júlíana Haraldsdóttir when we sat together on a flight from Iceland to New York in 2014. We'd just spent some time in that magical land and were excited to talk about our adventures, possibly getting a different perspective from these actual natives. Kári and Júlíana were infectiously happy, having just gotten married and on their way to some exotic honeymoon location with a brief stop in NYC. Kári talked about being a passionate golfer and a commentator for the sport on Icelandic television. Facebook being the great social equalizer these days, at the end of our flight we exchanged information and vowed to keep in touch, as we were fully expecting to return to Iceland in the future. After getting home and all "friending" each other, Kári's true story began to emerge. Diagnosed with a rare, virulent type of cancer when he was only seventeen and, at the time, given two years to live, Kári has literally been fighting for his life for the last ten years.
Receiving this diagnosis, unfathomable as it is for a young person to have to face, was something that would send most of us into the depths of depression, despair, and an obsession with dealing (or not dealing) with staying alive. Period.
What has impressed us most about Kári, is that he IS dealing with the disease and fighting a proper fight to stay alive, but he has also used this as a marker to really live a life that is full and good. "You have to adjust to living life faster than normal," he says.
He is fighting for that good life with a passion, and he is winning. He is writing a book about his journey, and he is quite pragmatic about its progress, saying it will be finished when it's good and ready. He also writes songs, paints and loves his beautiful wife, all with a passion and lust for life that are remarkable.
The disease and death loom as a shadow over his existence always, but he doesn't let it rule him. "It's a much bigger curse than it is a blessing, but you have to take something positive out of it, and people around me know how to live the same way as I do. I think it's the only way to live."
And for him, it boils down to, as he says, "being remembered. When you leave this earth, you can tell yourself that you left something behind."
We know with absolute certainty that he already has.
Update: We are devastated to report that Kári lost his life on February 17, 2016. His wife, Juliana, wanted to make sure we knew that Kári was winning his battle with cancer, and was struck with an aggressive virus that took him suddenly. We mourn the loss of such a special soul.