This life is full of the chance to try again, to overcome suffering, to grab onto a fleeting hope and ride it until something strong and swift and sturdy develops.
No one knows this better than my sister, Ashley. Had you asked me in the angsty days of youth (marked by bread bombs [a whole 'nother post], cruel jokes, incessant fighting, sibling rivalry, and a chronic illness that often left me feeling forgotten) whether Ashley and I would be friends today, I would've given you a hearty hell no! but time and maturity gave us a second chance.
But that's not completely true. Ashley, who had Cystic Fibrosis, received a double lung transplant ten years ago today at the age of 20. That surprise Valentine's gift ten years ago unlocked the door on Ashley's future -- a future that, up to that point, was perpetually clouded by words like you can't and sick and reduced life expectancy.
Those lungs -- pink and fresh and healthy -- were the true second chance. No one could've known that without them, Ashley would surely die in months (so said the surgeons reading the decay in her shriveled, extracted tissues like tea leaves). No one could've predicted the strength of her spirit as she took her first halting breaths not 24 hours post-surgery or was up and walking only hours later.
No one could know that Ashley would carry a different burden as she inhaled each strong, pain-free breath into those donated tissues -- the weight of knowing that someone else had to die so that she could live. This truth about second chances quickly lodged itself deeply in her heart. She was granted her second chance, but someone else's child -- and it had to be a child from the size of the lungs -- wasn't.
It is a simple truth that no one wants to talk about (and that seems morbidly gruesome to many), but it is part and parcel with transplantation and the life that people like Ashley are living thanks to the sacrifice of so many others. I had my second chance at an amazing relationship with someone who feels like a soul mate, Ashley had a second chance at a life that didn't revolve around hospital rooms and breathing treatments and 50 pills a day, and someone else put a child in the ground.
We could celebrate all the second-chance milestones -- living without the CF label, graduating college and going on to earn a Masters degree, experiencing life places not in close proximity to a large medical center, loving without worry of leaving your boyfriend with a dead girlfriend, teaching your nephews to appreciate sushi, cuddling with your only niece as she experiences the Sound of Music for the first time (and the list goes on).
We could celebrate these seemingly average moments, but we don't. To celebrate this given life would be to celebrate that tragic too-soon death. Instead, we remember. We pray for peace for the family who had to make the decision to donate the organs that gave life to a son or a daughter. We are humbled by all the grace and strength of those who chose to think of other lives though their pain must have been unbearable.
We spend long, gentle moments in silence and appreciate the sun shining on our shoulders, our hands reaching out for each other, a steady and firm embrace. We love and smile and turn our faces to the sky. We close our eyes and listen to the humming of our hearts, the rhythm of our breaths. We know that through someone else's tragedy, we are given chance after chance to say the words that can never be enough.