06 July 2014

I don't know what to make of you, I don't know how you came to be, I don't know what stars you see in your sky...

I don’t usually quote one of my own songs but in this moment with what’s on my mind my lyrics fit better than anyone else’s. A close second? Dan Wilson’s song “Too Much” from his recent release Love Without Fear (I LOVE this CD, BTW!):

“What you’re really like, I can hardly imagine, but I’ve imagined you so well, way too many times. What sets you alight? What gets your heart racing?....”

You see, I’ve found myself in a most interesting situation this past year. Or rather two situations, actually. Somehow, some way, I find myself caring about two people I’ve never met. Not just caring a little, but a lot; each for different reasons, each of whom I can’t imagine my life without at this point. I don’t understand any of it (although not for lack of trying) and I have no clue as to whether either of them feels the same way. How did this happen? That part I can explain…so here it goes, in order of occurrence….

It was June 2013 and I was working on what would end up being my favourite episode I wrote for “Buying Alaska”. It all started with some innocent, inquiring emails. I was trying to get to know a character in my show so I could write her better. I never intended for us to be friends. I thought there would be a few back and forth emails and life would move on. It didn’t happen that way. Soon the picture that emerged was one of an intelligent, beautiful, funny, and strong, wife, mother, and friend. I felt a kinship to her as we got to know each other. I loved that she loves kale as much as I do, knits (even though I don’t), understands my sense of humour, and loves music and poetry with the same passion that I possess (though, more accurately, she reintroduced me to poetry - something I’d put aside for a couple of years). She is someone with whom I share a belief system of right and wrong and where any situation might fall on that spectrum. She’s opinionated, honest and straightforward. She cares about the people in her world and has a love and respect for life that few I’ve ever ‘met’ seem to have. Then there’s this other thing about her – she reminds me of all the best parts of my mother. In fact, there have been moments where I felt that the words coming out of her mouth could very well have come from Mom. So much so that it’s been eerie at times, yet all the while comforting. My friend has been a presence that is calming, reassuring and downright sweet in nature.

All this, and, as I mentioned above, we have yet to meet. Our relationship, as such, has been mostly pen pal in nature – just like the old covered wagon days of yore when people only communicated in person or via the US Mail. In those days many a life-long friendship stayed alive because of letter writing. Though, yes, there have been countless texts and phone calls, but we’ve never skyped, or face-timed. So, we haven’t even met in the virtual, two-dimensional world. I know her voice, I know her laugh and I can tell you the colour of her eyes. But I don’t know what she looks like when you say something she doesn’t agree with, or finds herself in a moment of being polite when she’d maybe rather rip you a new one for vexing her very soul. I don’t know what she looks like when she’s looking at the moon, or into her children’s eyes. Because of all the footage I had to watch to write her episode I do know what she looks like when she smiles or walks down the road. But I don’t know what it’s like to hug her or touch her arm at a party during a conversation. These are things that friends know about each other, things that endear us to one another. Those little moments of intimacy that come about when you share a drink or a laugh. Sometimes when I don’t know someone well, if they give me a good hug, I’ll want to know them more and as such, they slowly find their way into my heart; we take those natural steps that friends take in order to become friends and we move ever slowly down the road.

All of this and none of it and there she is. I care about her, her family and I want to be there if ever she needs me. I see her as a lifelong presence and a friend I hope to know forever. I can’t seem to help it. I certainly don’t understand how I could care so very much about someone I’ve never met. Although we haven’t been in touch recently I hope she knows that I’ll always care for her and want to be her friend. I also hope she knows, to quote from the very first poem she shared with me, that “I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)…” (e.e. cummings) and I always will.

4 Aug 2013. A call from Worcester, Massachusetts. A voicemail left and the words ‘you’re a match – please call us back…’ It was in that very moment that I began to care. The call came from what was then the Caitlin Raymond Foundation (now part of BeTheMatch.org) telling me they needed me, or rather my bone marrow or stem cells, to help a patient for whom I was a near perfect match (for more on my experience as a donor please see earlier posts). As the calls, and emails, went back and forth I came to find out that the would-be recipient was a fifty-seven year old woman with leukemia who lived somewhere in the world. The rules being what they are all other information remains private and we are both anonymous to one another until such time after the one year donation mark (22 Oct 2014) that we both agree to find out who the other person is. These rules were explained to me very early on in the process but, yet, I started to care about her. A total stranger. One that I knew even less about than my aforementioned friend.

How could this be? How can I know so little yet feel attached? To put it quite simply, as of 22 Oct 2013, as far as I know all we share are stem cells (she has mine, that by now have become hers). I have no idea what she looks like, how she laughs, or the colour of her eyes. I don’t know if we have any shared value system or even if she has kids. I can hope that she has people in her life who love her and care for her and for whom my donation came as a welcome gift of time, life and the chance to say more.

So there I was – out for a run about one week after our 6 month donation mark (which was on 22 April) thinking all was ok in the world. It turns out the doctors, at this stage, perform several tests on the recipient. They want to see how she’s faring with her new ‘stuff’ and how she’s feeling. It makes sense, them following up with her since, technically, she isn’t cancer-free. What didn’t make sense to me was how crushed I felt when the phone rang and my advocate told me that the recipient wasn’t doing well. The tests showed a worrisome t-cell deficiency that, left unattended, would ultimately do her in. They needed me to donate again and was I willing to go through all the tests and the donation process? Hell yeah! No thought needed, no looking back. Just ‘what do we need to do to make this happen and how soon can we do it?’ All the while as I was asking these questions, my heart slowly sank and in those moments I realized just how much I cared about her. This total stranger with whom, as far I know, I only have one thing in common.

I guess until that day I’d been a little cavalier about the whole deal. What’s it to me? I show up, do some tests, take some drugs, and get strapped into a chair for six hours as my blood is pulled from my body and then put back in (minus the stuff they need). In many ways it was no big deal. I was doing my part to buy someone some time – maybe weeks, maybe months, maybe another lifetime (or at least a second act). It was a stranger, no one I’d met, interacted with (knowingly) or even knew about before that day in August. I did my part and everything else was on her. No reason to take any of it personally. But there I was, standing in my driveway in the warm spring sun, processing the information and realizing that I truly gave a damn about her! More than I ever realized or maybe had admitted until that moment. Yes, I knew I cared, but I didn't understand the depth within me that she had reached.

So it was on 19 May 2014 I donated to her my t-cells. No drugs this time but I had to go through the physical and all the necessary blood tests (yes, even a pregnancy test, that despite my protestations they still did; ‘hospital policy’ they said, ‘you’re of child-bearing age and if you don’t agree to it we can’t proceed with the donation’). The difference is, this time I felt more emotionally invested. It matters more to me if she lives. It matters to me that she wasn’t feeling well and needed more from me. Like a friend with the flu that needs the soup you bring over. You want them to feel better and you hate seeing them in pain. I hate knowing that my recipient wasn’t feeling 100% well. I want her to be ok – I want her to live long enough to feel the creaks and rattles in her aging body. To look back on her life and think ‘I done good and I done the best I could. I loved, I lived and I gave a shit about those in my life with all I had.’ I can hope these things for her – because I hope we have more in common than the blood running through our veins. If we don’t – it’s ok. Because I will look back on my life and know that ‘I done good and I done the best I could. I loved, I lived and I gave a shit about those in my life with all I had’ and she was among those I cared for. A stranger who I’d like to think knows that I’ll be there for her if she needs ‘more’ from me and is someone who will always be in my heart.

Yes, I hope I meet these two women I care so deeply for - even though I have no clue as to why. Maybe it’s time I should just stop trying to understand and just accept it for what it is (though clearly it makes more sense with one than the other). I do hope I am lucky enough to look in their eyes and feel the warmth that comes from friends sharing a hug, or a drink, or a laugh. Because, to close out with the last lines of my song from above:

”When we have our face to face, will the miles they be erased? Will we be like two old friends? Will this mystery ever end?...”

Thanks for tuning in…until next time…CHEERS!

Ps. If you’d like to know more about my music please go to www.facebook.com/laraschulermusic