Fierce Grace came to mind as I entered the New York Blood Center a couple of days ago. Fierce Grace is filmmaker Mickey Lemle’s deeply moving documentary about spiritual pioneer Ram Dass after his stroke. When it came out in 2002, I watched it about five times because I had a screener copy from the job I was at. I wish I had it now. Fierce Grace alludes to the transcendent goodness in the brutal events that eventually move us into wisdom.
When I heard that the blood banks in New York City were literally dry, I was overcome with fierce compassion. I hate going to the doctor and am not a fan of needles, but I’ve got O+ blood — a universal blood type — and the thought that people were dying because of a lack of platelets lit my fire.
Most of the cots were empty when I entered the big room at the Blood Center just a couple of hours after registering on their website. “Donations are down 80 percent,” said my friendly bloodletter, Nilsa. Nilsa took one look at my name and loved me. Her mother and daughter are named Betsy, and I must admit I’m rather fond of my name, so I loved her back for loving me. (Funny how that works.)Then Nilsa stuck me with the biggest needle I’ve ever seen and told me they are down to only one mobile collection unit and nobody is giving.
“Why do you think that is?” I queried, suddenly fascinated by the river of red flowing out of me.
Nilsa said she didn’t know, but I have a suspicion: I think it’s because we are all so scared with the turn of economic events that we’re hoarding — not only our money, but our life force. And it may be counterintuitive, but what’s really needed at such a time of loss and scarcity is fierce giving.
And fierce giving feels good. In fact, I sat there in a state of near bliss, watching my rich life force drain into a bag, imagining some little kid or somebody who’d had surgery or maybe somebody like me having their life saved as it was pumped into them.
"Are you light-headed?” asked Nilsa, concerned. I shook my head and smiled.
I always intended to give my body parts away. I even wrote an article about it. (More about that in a second.) I guess this week just got me going a little sooner than I’d intended.
In just 10 minutes a pint of me was neatly packed in a heavy plastic bag, and a few little tubes were ready to make sure I have no diseases. Nilsa thanked me for my generosity, but to tell you the truth, the pleasure was all mine.
You see, I lost my job last month, and I’ve felt kind of impotent. But this was something I could do. As I guzzled free apple juice in the hospitality room, the 300-pound man eating cookies on the other side of the table seemed to catch my happiness, and he proudly announced that he is part of the “Gallon Club” and said that I could be too if I wanted. “What’s the Gallon Club?” I asked, and he showed me an ID card attesting that he’d given more than a gallon of blood. “Nice,” I said, finishing a second carton of free juice.
I don’t know about Gallon Clubs or even redeeming the free gifts from something called “Red Cell Advantage.” But if you want to practice fierce giving, just go to the New York Blood Center.
And if you want to give more of your body parts away once you’re done with them, take a look at these resources from a feature article I wrote awhile ago:
If You Want to Donate
• Signing a donor card is not enough. Notify your next of kin and ensure their cooperation as it will be they who actually make the donation.
• Organ donation and whole body donation for research and medical training are mutually exclusive and require different arrangements. Donated organs must be removed within 24 hours; then the body can be held for ceremony and deposition. Donated bodies will be used in their entirety, then cremated; the ashes can be returned to donor families or otherwise deposed.
• Whole body donation is generally a local phenomenon. The 1968 Uniform Anatomical Gift Act qualifies dental and medical schools as authorized donor recipients. You can register with a local medical school. For schools in your area, go to LivingBank.org.
• Organ and tissue donation can be done locally or through national registries which will pick up your body, file a death certificate, and pay all costs involved.
LivingBank.org has a registry and extensive information.
LifeLegacy.org, 1-888-774-4438, a federally approved nonprofit research organ and tissue bank, offers a registry for “anatomical donation” which is an option even if the donor does not meet the requirements for transplant.