This time last year, a friend of mine was breathing with new lungs. His life was held in the balance, and it was yet to be seen if his body would accept someone else’s organs or if he would die. (I wrote this short story in his honor.)
My friend/former teacher has cystic fibrosis, and medical science said he should have died a long while ago. But he was lucky enough to live in a part of the country where researchers were actively studying CF, and was employed as a teacher with understanding bosses who made it work even when he was struggling.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder where the lungs slowly, inevitably, fill with mucus and fluid. Essentially, it’s drowning from the inside out. It was terrifying to watch. Just over a year ago, my friend was knocking on the pearly gates. His skin had a grey pallor; he hauled an oxygen tank around with him everywhere he went and had a bone-rattling cough; he was so thin his pants sagged where the belt was tied and his bones showed under his skin.
But David received a miracle: he was given the gift of new lungs, via a “risky” lung transplant.
And the reason he got those lungs, those incredible, life-saving lungs, was because he had a community.
This Sunday he told the members of the church we attend that it was our contribution that helped get him the lungs. See, there are a lot of people who desperately need a second chance, but for some stupid reason you have to opt-in to be an organ donor, rather than the much more logical and efficient opt-out method (seriously: sign up to be an organ donor. You won’t need those parts after you are gone, and you could literally save a life). So to pick who will get lungs, in this case, there is a long list of criteria, and those on the list are ordered in terms of crisis. You can’t get on the list unless you will literally die without a transplant, but you have to be really close to dying to actually get it. It’s crazy, and frightening to watch.
But one of the criteria was a support group. And my church was that support group for David. Even though his family lives out of town, our church was there to help him. After a lung transplant, you can’t do a lot. They pried his chest apart and took out organs, then slapped some new ones in there. It’s not an easy recovery. But the hospital is too dangerous a place to stay, since David has to take a battery of drugs just so his own body won’t attack the new lungs. Basically, it was all too easy for David to get sick.
So David needed someone to care for him but couldn’t be at the hospital. His parents did eventually make it to town, and they did a lot of the day-to-day stuff. But members of our church filled in the gaps, provided meals, provided company, wrote notes, prayed, sat with him in the hospital, and–recently–took him to and from his 1-year anniversary checkup (he has 103% lung capacity now!)
It really hammered home, for me, how important it is that we build a community for ourselves. It’s so easy–so incredibly easy–now to live in isolation. Self-imposed isolation where we connect mostly online and don’t have a lot of face-to-face interaction. And I get it: I’m home alone now as I write this, and I’d be annoyed as heck if someone else where here. I need space to think.
But we need balance, too. Because someday, God forbid, we might need help. We might need that community. And that’s the kind of help you can’t find at the last minute. You have to plant those seeds early.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always good at that. But I am grateful for David’s reminder: not just that there are miracles in this world, and that we can’t take a single breath for granted, but also that we need other people. I’m going to work on my community. I hope you’ll take a moment to show your appreciation for yours.