On my drive to Starbucks for a rare treat, I contemplated how I could make the world a better place when I literally saw the sign. It was for a blood drive and it was posted in front of the Shriner’s temple. Perfect! I will donate a pint of blood to an anonymous person facing an immediate crisis as a symbol of my gratitude for the men and women in our armed forces who have shed their blood for my freedom.
As it turns out, however, the anonymous person was not so anonymous. His name is Owen and he is 2 and suffering from a rare disease that requires continuous blood transfusions as part of his immediate treatment. In exchange for my donor paperwork, the blood bank worker handed me a picture of this beautiful child in the form of a thank you card from his folks. My pride in my mitzvah and the resulting joy was extinguished instantly with the realization that a family was in pain. Lying on the portable table with a needle in my arm, I stared at the various light fixtures overhead trying to make sense of the thoughts and events that had led me to my current state.
The day before, my soon-to-be-ex husband had taken all three of our young children to visit his parents for the weekend. While I was prepared for a day or two without our twins, I was confident that he would inevitably leave the baby (10 months) behind with me. Despite texts requesting a pack-and-play and a high chair, I was still in denial that he would take all three of our children even after he pulled out of the driveway in the minivan with them packed snugly aboard.
For the first time in almost a year I was childless and this unleashed a complex mishmash of emotions including a sense of relief and gratefulness for the brief period of time to myself, coupled with a horrible sense of dread and anxiety that, God forbid, something would happen to my children once out of my force field. I was at a complete loss for how to occupy this gift of time (once I had finished cleaning my house, of course). While much needed sleep would have been beneficial, I just could not justify wasting the hours in an unconscious state. Thus, I headed out of the house without my usual entourage and all that it necessitates, feeling a bit sorry for myself, yet anxious to do something solely for me. While checking Facebook I decided that what I really needed to do was help someone else.
I did not learn the details regarding Owen’s illness until I returned to work and did some research. I could have asked his father what was ailing him as he thanked me on my way out of the door, but I could not risk looking him in the eyes for fear I would turn into a puddle at his feet. I signed Owen’s get well card at a woman’s insistence and tried to exit the building with as much courage and composure as possible. I was happy to help Owen in any way and certainly would again. But Owen reminded me that doing a mitzvah is not about me or my comfort or the good feeling I get knowing that I have helped someone else. Doing a mitzvah can be quite painful.
I found a few enjoyable ways to spend the remainder of the weekend, but Owen stayed in my thoughts. I have taped his picture to my mirror so that I start each day in gratitude, prayer, and contemplation. My family circumstances are changing and I am facing some major obstacles in my life. Owen, in his short life, is facing even bigger battles, but he smiles at me each morning and I know that together we will all pull through.