Six years ago, I cashed in on years of guilt, anxiety and neurosis to get a free trip to Israel with the Birthright foundation.
There were many great things about this trip, very few of which I chose to emphasize when I wrote a tell-all story for Revolving Floor called, “Eggs, Milk and Honey.”While some people may remember this story as the time I insinuated a number of less than flattering things about Jewish men, others may recall the true point of the story, which was declaring to the Jewish people that I did not intend to bear them seven Jewish babies, even if it would help our race recover from the major hit it took during the Holocaust.
What I never mentioned in this story, due to word count limitations and the fact that I thought it was totally unimportant, was that at the same “Mega-Event” when the president of Birthright asked me to pop out seven bundles of Jewish joy, an organization called “Gift of Life” stood in front of the entrance asking people to give cheek cell samples.
At the time, I was not the healthiest person. I was anemic, got bronchitis frequently and signs of my low-to-no calcium diet were starting to make a timid appearance in my bones. I also hated going to the doctor and I had zero desire to go anywhere near these people.
But they tried very hard. They stopped me a few times and I avoided them, but at some point, they had blocked the exit. “I’m not healthy,” I insisted. “The red cross won’t even take my blood!”
“It’s not for blood,” they insisted. “Bone marrow is different.”
I remember a lot about Israel, but I don’t recall what the rest of my challenges were, or how they won me over. (I’m pretty sure this is the only argument I’ve ever lost in my life, which probably why I blocked it out.)
All I know is that gave my cheek cell sample, and that six years later, last week, I got an email letting me know I was a possible bone marrow donor for a 56-year-old woman with an form of Leukemia.
Scratch that. I’d been getting emails for a few weeks, and they had sent a letter to my mother’s house. I’d been ignoring them. I didn’t want to donate my bone marrow. Nor did I want to be inconvenienced by emails from people I didn’t know, when I barely had time to answer emails from people I did know.
But for whatever reason, this time I read the email closely. A 56-year-old-woman? It wasn’t like I was saving a young person, right?
Then it hit me. Just because my parents can drink me under the table and don’t have wrinkles does not mean that they are not in their late 50s. Imagine if it was my mother and there was some idiot out there like me who actually thought she was too busy to answer emails?
So I got on the phone with the Gift of Life.
I learned all about the two types of bone marrow donation – one is a surgery where they put you under and extract bone marrow from your lower back. The other is a 4-6 hour blood transfusion type thing where they take blood out of one arm and immediately put it back in your other arm.
I heard somethings I didn’t want to hear such as, “might not be able to work out for two days after” and “would have miss two days of work.”
I started to tell her that I couldn’t take any time of work, but bit my tongue. If I had a dollar for everything in my life that I have skipped so I wouldn’t take time off work or skip a workout, I could quit my job, sit home on the couch, and pay someone to do an elliptical trainer while I watched.
In other words, there are many moments in our lives when we are called upon the grow the f**k up, and this was undoubtedly one of mine.
The next step, she told me, was a blood test, to see how good a match I really was.
“Can I take the blood test and then decide when we hear the results?”
“Yes, but you should think about it carefully. The further along you go, the harder it is to say no.”
Only a Jew would so quickly understand the indecisiveness of a fellow Jew. Her compassion and insight struck me hard. (Let me just say, any sales guy who thinks he/she has a hard product to sell needs to call the Gift of Life immediately. These people are geniuses.)
Then she told me she knew I needed time to think about it.She wanted me take the whole weekend and I didn’t have to call her, she would follow up with me next week. As someone who hates to be cornered, rushed or hounded, I was so happy I wanted to give her whatever she needed immediately.
Except for two days of my life, six hours worth of my blood, or any of my bone marrow.
Back at the office, I announced that I was a match for a bone marrow donation.
In unison, one person cried “great” and two moaned, “that sucks!”
Two things were clear to all of us. The first was that this would be a really painful process, and the second was that I was most certainly going to agree to do it.
Another person overheard the commotion and asked, “What’s going on?”
“RB has to be a bone marrow donor.”
“She has to be?”
“If I want to have a soul,” I interjected. “I have to do it.”
It actually surprised me how many people in all areas of my life affirmed that this was something I had to do. It also surprised me that I agreed with them.
Given how opposed I was to the whole Birthright thing, given how I think that the world is overpopulated and people should stop having babies, given how I totally believe what they said in the Age of Stupid movie and think we’re all going to be dead by 2055, given that I try to take a scientific, objective approach towards life and death, it didn’t even make sense that I’d be so convinced this was the right thing to do.
It’s written on the Gift of Life website that “It is said that saving one life is like saving the entire world.” For me, that doesn’t really resonate. Saving the whole world seems epic, impersonal and unrealistic.
But saving the life of one person transcends all logic, all eat-and-be-eaten-kill-or-be-killed philosophy. I don’t care who this woman is, what she does, how she votes or whether she thinks I’m funny. Saving a life transcends principles; it is a religion of its own.
I walked away from that “Mega-Event” six years ago so mad about those seven Jewish babies that I was determined not to give life to anything, almost out of stubbornness. It reminds me of this Lawrence Peter Berra quote, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”
So, even when the woman from Gift of Life called me at 7am on Monday and I wanted to reject her purely for being so pushy and not giving me as much space as she promised she would, I stood my ground, and signed up for the next step – blood tests.
Who even knows if I’ll make it to Level 2 – as there are many tests left to pass. What I do know is that as I embark on this potentially long process, it will help if I can start thinking of it less as a moral dilemma and more as a video game.