The year has come and gone with no fury and bluster, but pleasure and pride. There is a name for this peace of mind, and pieces of mine: eudemonia. The essence of all that is within, and the composition of my being is something that has come to be quite synonymous with happiness and an amazing contentment. Emotionally, I am complete. Spiritually, I am whole. Physically…I am alive. This is the second time that a second year has come, and the last. Should this ever arise again, there will be a third, but at long last I envision that I will be as so much ash in the winds by the time I need live in Death’s long shadow once more.
I find that I have celebrated great health with a day in the sun and a day in the world. For the first anniversary of my birth, last July 16th, I have had dinner with those whom I love and I have ridden roller coasters for the first time in decades. Life has not come full circle. Rather, I have started a completely new one, and I now stand poised to embrace my second year; my second circle. My first birthday having come and gone, I feel God-sized, yet submissive to the concept of the necessity of humility. There is something intrinsic in the fight against sickness that lets one know they are infinitesimally small – universally. Yet, alas, we tend to falter and fade unto the giants in our own mind. As Nimrod lowers us unto the ninth circle, we feel as though we still may stand above him in spite of his having lent us his hands. To fight after defeating Death itself is to look into the eyes of some twisted megalomania and say: “No. Not for me. I am but a man.” Alas, often we cease fighting after the eternal chess game has ended, and Death grants us life.
Submission is key in the destruction of prideful sicknesses. Think of this for a moment. There is no sense in saying that sickness is a manifestation of pride, surely. However, the way we overcome is through an amazingly powerful environment filled with love. There is an immediate necessity, here: to prioritize the love of family and friends. To prioritize the necessity of leaning upon the shoulders on which we most rely. Sickness alone, for me…well…this was something akin to a rationalization. But sickness defeated was a culmination of love given and love received. And it was something that came so naturally that all I really wanted was nothing more than to wake next up after a successful surgery next to my mother LP and my father JP, whose faces I can still see in those horrible plastic ICU chairs exactly one year ago in July. My father’s face staring down at me as he reminded me I could do this when they ripped the ventilator out of my throat with a numbing grind. Without those shoulders…where, God? Where would I be?
So many visits to the hospital in Columbus to keep myself alive in the interim…so many…so many… Each time I went with my Grandma N, and we became an amazing team. This is a woman who I admire and hold in esteem that can’t be measured. Though my cold exterior never leans on anything but chairs and doorframes – it is clear that to lean on those I love with what is inside of me is something amazing, indeed. Something that has driven me to this date – the day that the world says: “You’ve made it”…”Your transplant worked!” It is truly something to brag about, this. My family carried me to the finish line like a sack of potatoes, and then I found someone to whom I could give every ounce of love I have ever found and have ever known in the world. There has not been one single moment in time that I have not had a life filled with love – be it my love extending outward, or someone loving me inward – but my life after birth has been love alone. I have said many times that life’s fruits can only be tasted by those who will love the world selflessly, and it holds true. The fact that love is something coming inward for me is what saves my life over and over again each day.
I still remember the sound of those clippers in the tiled shower at Cleveland Clinic…sitting there idle for three months. Waiting and then healing. So much anxiety. Will I live? Will I see eternity, or will I see stillness? Will I see rejoicing, or will I see silence? I called my brothers JH and AEZ before each offer just to tell them I loved them and they saw me through. I called LP and two hours later she was standing in front of me hoping for nothing but the best outcome. I always underestimated how much everyone around me was filled with love, and I encourage you – readers – to never make that mistake. People are capable of great things if you let them manifest the truth of their emotion. And at the end of the day – nothing outside of knowledge and wisdom wields as much power as an emotion.
The panic leading up to the anniversary was immense. I admit it. It was something extreme, which time has forced upon me as my enemy. Time. Time is something so significant as to earn no more than my ignorance, yet it commands the stock of my concern as does one with pull and power. But I am home. I am home now and time can never touch me again. I can drink, and I can feel. I can eat and I can heal. I can love and live, meet, and see. I can find happiness in the things that flew by in my periphery before I knew how important they were. Within the depths and counsel of the spirit that I thought I possessed, I have found peace and health at long last.
Yes. The coming of the second year, a second time. This is an eternity which questions the coming of the first. Did I ever wait, or was it all a dream? The death of a child to provide the lungs of a grown man, and the provision of life where only death would have remained. My survivor’s guilt was astounding. Something like that. I had some manifestation of guilt that doesn’t quite fit the defined parameters of survivor, but it was a great regret for me to know that one should have to die, and I should have the privilege of life. I would have gladly died so that another may live, and to accept the gift of life where I would much rather have given it was…troubling. There is no justice in death. But, alas, neither is there justice in sickness. So we make our choices, and we move forward. We overcome, and we persevere.
I have no idea what happened in the last 365 days, or the time after. It all seems to be spinning around like an insane carousel with a mind all its own. I know I can feel the pulling and tearing of muscles in my arms and chest and legs. I can feel weights, and taste protein. I can feel the sweat on my back, and prove that I’m real when I use my body and take advantage of its new found strength. But, when I see myself in the mirror, I lose my connection to recognition and reality. I become a manifestation of my own hope and a realization of my own dreams ten years before. My life was unhappy and sick, then. I found no peace when I was young, and even when I submersed myself in the beauty of the world…even then I could drown in the self-flagellating, and pain-stricken lack absence of universal worth I felt when I looked in a mirror. I was an empty shell, and a dying husk.
Each day I think back to the moment they told me I would never make it this far; that I would plateau. Each day I think back to the moment the respiratory therapist told me I would never make it this far. The rest is nothing more than a blur of moments, bleeding together to form the conceptual year. There is an intrinsically philosophical property to the recognition of the time passing by within the context of the life I have stolen from its gaping maw. I like to think that “I showed those guys!” But I didn’t. It was never about spite, because spite is empty. The heart of spite is rotten and full of sickness. I have fought for too much, and lived through too much for this ship to break apart upon the rocks of spite’s wicked shore. It is about life, and life alone. It’s about the same philosophical approach to life that I’ve always had: hope.
Hope permeates and permits. Hope defines and determines. Time has exploded like a dying star, and here I stand. Here we stand. Through trial and triumph the body of readers and transplantees, the ill and the healed, the hopeful and the apprehensive; we stand united and we stand alive, basking in the heat of the beautiful nova. Life is a series of moments flashing by when you recall it all at once. Each among us has a vision of tiny moments; flashes of light. The shining of a street lamp upon the smile of the one we love. The moon shining across the waters as we stand there alone and witness the world’s beauty calling to us as though we’ve never seen anything in our lives, and our eyes have only just then opened for the first time. The snow descending upon our brows and making note of each step we take, for just one moment, until our life’s path has been hidden again by the winter’s rush.
We can never go back. We can never relive these precious moments, but we can always remember the eyes and the smiles, the snows and the motions. The truth of Life’s excitement is that it is the dominant oppressor of Death. To die is to experience one moment. To live is to embrace a mentality and a series of these moments as one united front that stands tall; firmly embracing all of your hopes and dreams should you choose to trust it. To choose to move forward and to take everything as a gift; even a gift of life that has come from the clutches of unjust death. In the end, to know a truth is not to live; but to live is to know Truth itself.
In all of the recognition of that which has been overcome, the most difficult fight remains ahead of all of us. To overcome the self, the constant pull of the world spinning in circles around us; reaching out and yanking us toward it like some overpowered graviton. The self is a powerful thing when you come face to face with the megalomania which is the culmination of defeating death with one decisive blow. We become reckless. Things spiral out of control and enjoyment becomes an accessible part of our weakness. I remember my first month of recovered health post-transplant being a month filled with audacity and challenge. I looked the world in the eyes and asked what else it could possibly throw at me.
It is just this recklessness that can destroy us for a second time. The second coming of an Invincibility Complex. We must learn to heed our own words in such a case, and to expose ourselves once more to the concept of humility. Fighting off death is not the only thing we must to in this life to do right by the ones we love. We must also live well, and do everything in our power to prevent its unwelcome return. Never lose sight of the humility that can keep hope alive within you, for the moment you think you have succeeded you are beyond a use for hope and humility. You find yourself complete, and this is something we can never be.
The human condition is one such that our journey is never complete in this life. One thing I have always tried to stand by is that kindness, hope, and humility are the primary goals I wish to achieve. Exactly one year ago today I returned home from Cleveland Clinic for the final time. I lost sight of these ideas for a short time when I returned home, but I began to understand once more. To love truly is to live, and to do this we must remain humble and true to the kindnesses we share. To forget this is to risk the entirety of this second life I have waited so long to find, or to lose it completely. I have never felt so alive as I do now; however, if I have learned anything since I first arrived home, it is that the most valuable things in this life are love and kindness. Even more so than breath.