Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When the world changes right nearby.

The world is always changing. it's just that most times it's far and muffled. But sometimes you're yanked out of bed, swung around by one leg and flung into a new universe.

The phone went off with a harsh jangle at about five past midnight last night. Usually the initial surge of alarm subsides when the caller turns out to be someone in a different time zone who forgot the difference or a caller excited by something great that happened to them.

Once in a while it's as bad as the first surge of fear and then some.

The cellist answered the phone. It's on her side of the bed.

"What? No! How? When? Are you all right?" She sounded instantly breathless and shocked. I could hear a tearful woman's voice on the other end of the line. I began repeating the questions the cellist was asking, to know what had happened, to whom, and how badly.

Her brother had been found dead in his house while his wife and two toddlers were away visiting her parents. He was 47.

Over the years I have had friends of friends die young. Just a couple of weeks ago I finally got a solid Google hit on one of my old fencing teammates I'd been trying to track down for years. It was his obituary.

While I'm no great fan of death, it doesn't freak me out when it happens to someone young. By the time I finished high school I'd lost one schoolmate to cancer when she was in fifth grade. Another graduated from high school with one leg. By the end of the following year she had lost the other leg and her life. I know death has no respect for your age, your plans, how beloved you are or your social position. Some people live a long time. Others don't. Sometimes the death makes a certain amount of sense: the deceased may have a medical condition, dangerous habits or hazardous activities. Our cars kill 40,000 of us a year in the United States alone. But when someone just drops, and he's the only parent in his group of siblings it changes everyone's outlook. The man is dead, that's shocking enough. His survivors still need to live. We all have to figure out how to help them with the plain practical matter of going on.

When we went to bed we thought the bad news was that we had less time than we had thought to find a kidney transplant facility for her and see if we need to set up one of those transplant chains to get live donors lined up with matched recipients. If I match her it's just $150,000 worth of plug-and-play. The odds are against it.

Organ transplantation isn't like any other purchase. You only get one shot. The organ has to be right. The surgical team has to be right. It's a lot to absorb. We have about six years. Will a medical miracle change our situation? One can hope, of course, but again, the odds are against it.

The future looks complicated and expensive. In the meantime we still have to get to work every day and pay our bills. The future is unknowable. Lay the groundwork for what you hope to reach. Remember that most of your plans and absolutely none of your hopes guarantee anything.

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