This is my 100th post to this blog, a fittingly round number on the day I turn 33 years of age. Birthdays mean very different things to different people. For some it is a day to celebrate, to spoil oneself and bask in some well deserved attention. For others, it is a day to ignore, a reminder of advancing age and little else. For me, even more so than last year on my first post-transplant birthday, it is a day to ponder. Because now and forever more, my birthday reminds me of the life of the person who saved mine, a person whose birthdays are now a reminder of absence, what-ifs, and loss.
Today, I wonder about my donor and his or her identity. I know precious little about my donor, not even the person's gender. For the ease of writing this, I will use the male pronoun, though I have no evidence that my donor was male. All I do know is that he was a match, and that my (his) lungs were "gently used." This euphemism, to me, indicates that my donor was a kid-- probably a teenager, since I am 5' 4" and physically, my small frame is most likely a trait I have in common with my donor. The presumed fact that my donor was a teenager is one I do not, cannot think about every day. It would be too much to register each time I look at a student-- to acknowledge that had I been hired in a different district, it is entirely plausible that my donor could have sat and learned from me in my classroom. To confront the fact that I owe my existence to a person who maybe never had the chance to read To Kill a Mockingbird, who eagerly awaited getting his license, who had an entire future mapped out for himself... Well, the tears I shed as I write this are the reason why I keep these ideas locked up on a day-to-day basis.
I also wonder about my donor family, who likely made the donation decision on behalf of their son or daughter. It is not then, one person to whom I owe my life, but a family who was told their child had died, and soon after was asked to turn a tragedy into a miracle. I wish, more than anything on this day, to know more about these amazing people. I have no control over gaining that information, and the letter I wrote nearly a year ago has received no response. I am left with hope, and employ the Serenity Prayer, which serves me just as well know as it did while I was on the transplant list.
I have given serious consideration to celebrating my birthday on my donor's birthday, should they ever contact me and give me information about their child. Or maybe I would eat my donor's favorite type of cake on my birthday, or do something on my donor's birthday to honor him. I know, without a doubt, that I would want to do something in memory of him; something that would make him smile. Because the other day I realized that the entire reason I became a teacher boils down to my desire to bring smiles to my students' faces. Yeah, sure, I love opening them up to classic literature and helping them develop their writing skills, but as I interacted with students as I served as a makeshift sub for my friend (I'm over at the high school anyway because she lets me run Improv Club in her room on Wednesdays). Because she had been out for several days, I spent an hour actually teaching these kids I don't even know, and recognized more fully than ever why I became an educator. It is to make a kid's day easier and brighter. Yesterday, that took the form of helping a girl figure out why her essay's introduction needs to be rewritten, and making a boy laugh at a groan inducing pun in spite of himself. (I felt the frog joke was "ribbitting.")
I teach to make the lives of teenagers better. And I continue to do so only because the life of a teenager ended.
If you, like me, are on your third Kleenex at this point, you'll see why I don't "go here" too often, and why I reserve a special day, like my birthday, to put myself in touch directly with these emotional realities.
When I blow out the candles on my cake tonight, and every birthday from here on out, it will be with the lungs of another human being. I will allow myself, if only briefly, to wonder. To wonder what I would do if my donor family were to contact me and I suddenly had the knowledge I desire. To know the answers to the questions that occasionally float through my mind like a leaf in the November breeze. What were my donor's hobbies and talents? What were his favorite foods and pet peeves? What were his goals, and his wildest dreams for future?
Would knowing these things be somehow more painful than not knowing them..?
I'm willing to find out.