Four years have passed since I left Connecticut to move back to California. It was, as I have mentioned previously, a difficult transition for me. It took a while for me to find where I fit in, both at work and at church. For the first time in my life I struggled with my own identity, my role or lack thereof. A year later, we returned for a family vacation to Connecticut to visit friends. While at church, I was wandering the hallways and ran into my dearest friend, Markell Fluckiger. Markell was the leader of our church in that part of Connecticut, and I had had the privilege of serving as his assistant (or counselor, as we were called) for four years. President Fluckiger was the most kind, wise and spiritual man that I have ever known.
When he saw me, he immediately embraced me with a hug. This is the kind of hug that completely engulfs you. No words were said for a moment, but in that silent reunion, I felt whole again. I knew that not only was I loved, I was remembered. I was myself again. I cherished that moment for a long time.
Three years have passed since then. My health had been deteriorating for some time, and since I did not know the cause, I kept it to myself, not realizing that Barbie was suffering under this burden of silence. Finally, in late June, the news came. I had restrictive cardiomyopathy, likely caused by Amyloidosis. I soon discovered that this was fatal. That Sunday we agreed to let family and a few friends know of my condition. Clearly, Barbie needed the support of others at this time. I also remember adding, “Oh, I could really use a hug right now from Markell”. She made a few calls and sent some emails. She told me that she had also emailed Markell Fluckiger and shared my wish with him.
Later that evening, I got a call. It was Markell. He had since relocated to Colorado, but informed me that he had an important business meeting in the Bay Area on Wednesday and would it be alright to travel the two and a half hour drive to see us in Lincoln. When he arrived, he gave me a book on handling adversity, shared some choice words of comfort with Barbie and then he gave me a hug. Markell is a big guy and you don’t escape from one of his hugs, nor would you want to. Again, I had this overwhelming feeling of his love and concern for me, and in that moment knew that everything would be alright. I have sensed no fear since then.
August 15 was the day that two worlds were uniquely united, and at the coeur of it all, a heart. This heart had already lived a lifetime in my donor. Each beat becoming the sum of his existence. Altogether they wove a tapestry of color and life that reflected all of his joys and sadness, his longings and toil. The heart was his witness and his strength, unfaultable in marking each moment, constant. But then, the unthinkable occurred, and as his life silently slipped away, his heart kept going, awaiting a new life. In that moment, my donor made the ultimate final gift, his heart to me.
My own heart has served me so well. I have experienced more joy and fulfillment in one lifetime than most men would have in three. But my heart was worn out, ravaged by disease and struggling daily to keep me going, and soon, it had marked its last beat.
While I lay there on the operating table, for at least an hour, I had no heart inside my chest. My survival was maintained only through machines and technology under the skilled hands of committed doctors and nurses. And then, his heart was placed and inside me, and my life began again. I had a new heart, but it is not completely mine, nor will it ever be. For it is a shared heart. This shared heart has already lived a lifetime and must be remembered as such.
This must be why I have the strong desire to hug everyone. A hug, in such a simple act, can bring two hearts together, marking a brief moment of friendship. I feel like I should share my shared heart with others. I will honor the memory of my donor by offering his gift to others with a hug.
In doing this, I am really following the example of my cardiologist, Dr Weisshaar. She hugs everyone, all of the time, and now I know why. Her life’s work has consisted of bringing hearts and souls together, and what better way to symbolize that than an offering of a hug to all of her patients.
Two things that heartbeats and hugs have in common are that they are both strong symbols of the importance of being in the present. Past regrets and future concerns have no place in the moment of presence. What I have learned from all of this is to cherish the present.
My dream is that someday, if allowed, I may meet the family of my donor and through the simple act of a hug, reunite them with him, one more time in the present.
In memory of my donor and his family.
Please say a prayer for them.