Imagine this: reading a handwritten note from the man who carries your dead wife’s heart inside his chest. No, I mean it. Stop reading. Imagine, just for a minute, the curves of the handwriting, the black ink, the feel of the paper, the shock.
Yes, the shock. It’s one thing to know intellectually that someone received a new lease on life in the shadow of your own trauma. Oh, but to have contact with a real, live human, that cuts strait to the soul.
On a Saturday, exactly five years ago, my wife of 27-years was declared brain dead. It was the 4th of April on the Gregorian calendar, the 10th of Nissan on the Hebrew calendar and Shabbat Hagadol in the Jewish religious cycle.
There was no question about what would happen next. She wanted to be an organ donor. She would have insisted upon it. And five people received a new beginning as a result.
Here’s what I wrote after my family received a handwritten note from the man who got Ami’s heart.
I hold an anonymous thank you note from a stranger, a man whose story is tied to mine, a man who once stood at the edge of death, whose family wondered and waited, the man who received Ami’s heart. “Thank you for the gift of life, for this heart,” he said, “I will treat it well.”
What is this thing inside us, that we can take it beating out of a dead woman and put it inside a dying man, in the shadow of tragedy and loss, to heal, to sustain, to bless? Can it merely be flesh and blood, when it still yearns so powerfully for life?
It’s been eleven weeks. Perhaps that heart that still beats, somewhere, inside someone, is a witness for us. No tragedy is so final, no loss so permanent, no fate so irrevocable, that a loving God cannot turn it into a blessing.
Today I’m counting blessings. You, my friends, among them.
I lied. At least at the time, it was one big lie. I wasn’t counting my blessings. Yes, I really wanted to believe that joy could emerge from the ashes of this loss. I wanted to believe it with all of my heart. My heart. Yes, with my own heart beating in my own chest. Damn it, man. Put that heart back where it belongs.
My daughters were shattered. My life felt like a pile of wreckage. And nothing, it seemed, nothing nothing nothing could be okay ever ever ever again. Period.
And yet, this I believe: the seeds we plant are the ones that yield fruit. So I’ve been planting that seed – that seed of faith that good can come from tragedy – almost daily for the last five years. I have friends who ask me, “Why are you always so damn happy?” One of them even said: “Sometimes your joy lifts me up and other times I just want to smash you in the mouth. Nobody can be that happy.”
Newsflash: joy, hope, love, faith, peace, they are choices. They’re even better choices when we choose life in the face of blackness and despair. So choose life. Right now.
Imagine what it’s like to treat joy as a spiritual practice. No, I mean it. Stop reading. Imagine, just for a minute, choosing to see all that’s good and wonderful even as your heart breaks. Imagine the faith it takes, in the moment of your deepest loss, to know that life will one day open up in wonder, in awe, in thanksgiving and in songs of praise.
It’s a matter of practice. For me, grief doesn’t go away. It’s not supposed to depart. Instead, grief and joy sing the duet of life. It is, indeed, beautiful.
For Donor Families
God of healing,
Bless the family of ______________________ (name of organ donor),
Of righteous memory,
Who was taken from their midst.
In the time of their deepest heartbreak
They had the strength and courage,
Generosity and kindness,
To choose life by donating her / his organs
For the benefit of others.
Bring wholeness and healing to their family.
May their strength resound through the generations.
May their love never cease.
Let their gift serve as a call to others
To follow this righteous path.
Grant Your blessings upon
All who are touched by transplant,
Donors, recipients and families,
Doctors and nurses,
Clinicians and administrators,
The vast network of professionals and volunteers
Who dedicate themselves to healing.
God of compassion,
May this gift of life
Become a source of consolation and comfort,
Holiness and grace.