Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Vigil

She turned away and I noticed that her chin quivered as she started to speak. As she turned back, her tear-filled eyes met mine. "So, how do you thank someone for a life?"...
"You give it back, Jenna. You give it back."

--Richard Paul Evans, The Timepiece

Last night was LOOP's annual Candlelight Vigil, which celebrates transplant recipients, honors donors, and provides hope for those who are still waiting (that's about 96,000 Americans, by the way). Last year was my first year attending (I also spoke), but this year I was a member of the planning committee and was a greeter, which was easier for me since I didn't have to prepare remarks (even though I love to talk).

The transplant community is really a great, warm group of people. You have recipients, who just seem to be naturally drawn to each other, no matter what organ you received. Really, the experience is fairly universal--the waiting, the recovery, the immense gratitude and the feeling that "thank you" is totally inadequate to express what the gift of life really means to us.

But you have donor families in the community, too, and so often, they are glad just to see that we are alive and doing well. I once told a donor's dad that "thank you" feels like so little compared to what they gave. And he said that it's enough to know that we are healthy and happy. In a way, life goes on. At the Vigil, there is a video tribute to the donors, and some of them are so young--babies, even. But all of them elicit stirring thoughts, the paradox of donation--you are alive, watching the video, because they died. It can be quite eerie.

Then you have people who are "supporters of the cause"--they work on behalf of donation because they believe in it. They may not know a donor, or a recipient (they do after coming to work for LOOP!) but they want to be involved. They love to hear your stories, too. :)

It's a great community, very open and very caring. For everyone involved it's so emotional that these events are great ways to share all of that. Even as transplants have become more "common", they're still far from being totally mainstream, and a lot of people are afraid of them, or have a lot of misconceptions. Being with people who know the story makes it a lot easier. Especially since, with CF, I didn't have this kind of community because we had to "stay away" from each other, physically, to avoid infection. So you become fairly isolated. But the transplant community is close, and I love that. It's great to be able to share these feelings and spread the word about donation as you do it.

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