I have a really good driver’s license photo. I am not bragging. Trust me: I was totally surprised when it came in the mail, especially given the circumstances under which it was taken. You see, when I was diagnosed a year and a half ago, I did the mental math and figured that right about the time I would need to renew it, I would be bald, nauseated, bloated, and two months into my chemotherapy treatments. It wasn’t exactly the image I wanted to carry around for the next six years, nor one that I wanted to remember if I lived to tell the tale. And so, I scrambled to make the ninety-day cut prior to the expiration date, applied a bit of makeup to the dark circles under my eyes and set out to find the nearest driver’s license bureau.
I am an organ donor and have been for as long as I can remember. I believe that it can help so many regain their lives by restoring their health. Truth be told, I signed the pledge many years ago because it gave me a discount on my license. What can I say? I am equal parts frugal and equal parts altruistic. But when the clerk asked me if I wanted to continue with my donation, I stopped to consider. Would anybody even want my organs after they had been bathed in poison? What value might there be in them after the illness had its way with me, rendering my body virtually useless? It was one of those moments when the long term effects of having cancer hit home. Even after I was gone, would there still be consequences from being so sick, I wondered?
A few months earlier, I had watched a video of a massive tree being cut in a beautiful forest. The tree stood out among the verdant green which surrounded it because it bore no leaves on its outstretched branches. No sap flowed through its once-mighty stem. It was dead, taken by some terrible blight that it was not strong enough to overcome. And yet, the arborists carefully handled the tree, guiding its wide trunk to the ground so that it wouldn’t fracture in the process. Cautiously, they cut it into long logs, which they loaded onto the back of a trailer before hauling it away. What was their reasoning for such a painstaking process? Why did they spend such time and effort to preserve the diseased tree? Because although it was no longer alive in the place where it had been planted, when its roots had dug deep into the moist earth and it lifted its leafy head toward the sun, it still had great worth. Its wood was to be fashioned into furniture or used to build a home or a school. It could subsequently become a baseball bat or a croquet mallet. The possibilities were endless. For indeed, it would live on, serving a purpose for many years to come.
Somehow, that filled me with hope. Perhaps my skin could ease the suffering of a burn victim or my eyes allow a blind child to see. I can hear a whisper from across a room, teacher ears, I like to call them. Might they help someone deaf to hear? My heart continues to be strong. Conceivably, it could beat in the chest of another who has waited so long to receive one. Or maybe doctors might study what is left of me, using that knowledge to find a cure. Surely there would be something of value left of me.
“Yes,” I whispered, trying not to cry. “I want to be a donor.”
It was in that moment that I realized that what we see as an ending often is really just the beginning, even when that seems impossible. I hold onto that thought.
Oh, and the last time I went to the pharmacy, I was asked for an ID. I proudly whipped out my driver’s license. I no longer look at all like the woman in the photograph, but perhaps I am stronger and wiser than she, having grown resilient and brave from the trial. “Good picture,” the young clerk commented.
“Thanks,” I said, grateful that he hadn't pointed out the obvious differences. “I think so, too.”