〈”We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — “Mirrorgrams,” Altoona (PA) Mirror, 1944〉
I grew up in eastern Massachusetts. My dad was a Teamster, a truck driver, the youngest of 8, raised with a strong sense of obligation to family and community. And every other month, he would drive into Boston to give blood.
I remember this so clearly because he often took a few of us six kids with him. Orange juice, cookies, and the Rainbow Swash are some of my defining memories of Boston growing up.
All these years later — Dad gone, Mum gone, that familiar dank smell of fallen leaves a reminder that the year’s going too — that post-donation process is still much the same: metal chairs at large plastic folding tables, with the addition of bottled water to the array of canned juices.
Now it’s me going every other month, and I bring my kids when I can, too. I want to show them, the way Dad showed us, that giving blood is as normal and necessary as breathing. Blood drives at the community center down the street are my favorite, because the volunteers there bring homemade cookies, and they’re usually delighted to keep the kids company while I’m busy with the blood-letting.
I bring this up because honestly, I’m finding the tenor of events in our nation disheartening, and one of the best remedies for despair I know is to be of use: to paraphrase, when I feel low, I go high.
And giving blood rocks the Usefulness Scale; it’s to give life in the most literal form there is.
Mum needed several blood transfusions during the course of her cancer treatment, so even without the memory of Dad’s dedication, I’d have still felt the need to pay it forward.
If you’re feeling discouraged about these dark days (and you’re already registered to vote), think about what’s meaningful to you, and how you might grow that light. I’m a blood donor because it matters to me, and it makes me feel good, but not everyone is able to give blood.
Maybe for you that means volunteering at the local food pantry, phone banking for Hillary, donating to your favorite public radio station or nonprofit poetry press, or finally packing up those extra clothes to donate.
Or something as simple as baking pumpkin bread for your neighbor, apple-picking with your kids, running a race for charity (or both simultaneously), or exploring the local Goodwill for interesting Halloween ideas after you drop off your donations.
Whatever works for you, whatever helps.
If all else fails, and the kids are being rotters to boot, you might turn to The Happy Hedgehog Band — tum tum te-tum, diddle diddle dum, ratta-tat-tat, BOOM! — it’s the Pied Piper of books, a sly rally of percussive joy that no kid can resist.
Sometimes what we really need is to bang the drum, and bang it loud. Drum beat, heart beat — give life, celebrate life. There’s work to do, but here’s to remembering why it matters.
If you’d like to become a blood donor, and have a smart phone, try the Blood App from the Red Cross. You can make and keep track of donor appointments, your donation history, and watch the progress of your donation as it’s processed. Plan ahead! You’re more likely to donate if you know where and when you can.