Saturday, December 5, 2009

You get what you deserve even when you don't deserve it

I seem to have learned the term "perfect storm" late, and I like it, though some feel it is overused. It grows out of talking about weather, and the conditions that come together to create a major storm. From Wikipedia -
the phrase has grown to mean any event where a situation is aggravated drastically by an exceptionally rare combination of circumstances. . . .
That would be my life recently, multiple impacts, but I'm only going to write about one event right now. It was set in motion two weeks ago when I asked The Caring Committee at my church to put on the table a few brochures from the Donate Life people. These are colorful brochures with an application for deceased donor status inside, just in case there might be someone who wasn't an organ donor. Something like 8,000 people die waiting for a kidney transplant every year.

At last, ten days later a Committee member called to tell me nervously they didn't think it was appropriate to put the brochures on their table. I could put them up on the Community Bulletin Board in the back hallway, she said. The woman who called is a nice person I've known for many years. I was as polite as could be. I told her I've been on the transplant list two years now, and I haven't been able to figure out how to get my story in front of the church. Quite true. Also, I've been afraid to, afraid that no one would step forward to talk to me about live donation.

Every week I read about someone who got a kidney from a live donor. These folks are in the news, they are on the dialysis and transplant e-lists. Sometimes they're pretty smug about it, as if they deserve to have a loving sister and a best friend who are both eager to undergo major surgery for them. A couple of years ago, the first person I met in the waiting room at the dialysis unit was an elderly priest, my age or older. He had three (count them, 3!) parishioners wanting to be tested for a match. I wondered if one of them would be willing to give me a kidney.

When I got off the phone, the storm inside me broke. I had asked so little, it seemed impossible that they would turn it down. Was it personal? I wondered if I had an enemy on that committee, what I had done to deserve the malice I felt was behind this refusal. Memories of other times church members have hurt me came up. In Unitarianism, ministers love to talk about interconnection, but not about kindness. That would be asking people to examine their behavior. Interconnection, that's safe. It's just something you imagine.

As I was brushing my teeth tonight I thought about some maxims, some things I'd like to say on this blog, and thought about why I wanted to discontinue it. After that phone call something inside me really wanted to discard that sweet Grandma self who always understands. I got angry at Buddhism, too, for seeming to always reinforce accepting abuse.

A maxim: When people hurt you, it is usually not on purpose; they are just involved in getting something for themselves. I know abstractly that this is true.

What could that be in the case of this committee? The usual fear of opening the floodgates, although in our church the floodgates are always open to whatever weird thing someone feels like doing and just goes ahead and does. I imagined the conversation: If we do this for her, what will someone ask of us next? What does the dharma call that kind of fearful self-protection? Greed, I told Tom. And also ignorance, not thinking of consequences. I could think of one consequence right away. I said, I'm glad they called back before I responded to the Holiday Appeal for more funds. I thought how I never have liked the Christmas Eve service since they did away with the individual candle-lighting. (Someone was afraid the wax . . .)

Today I came across a Zen quote, one of those "When I laugh, I laugh. When I cry, I cry." But what about when I feel hurt and vindictive? Do I go with those? Is that Buddha-nature? What about profound depression?

The title of this post is from Issan, a Zen monk and student of Shunryu Suzuki who positively flaunted his faults. I try to get there. Meanwhile, I salute his advanced wisdom.


  1. I've never thought of becoming an organ donor when I die. It never occurred to me. But your posts about needing a liver transplant has made me think about it. I don't really care what happens to my body when I die, and if I can save someone with my body organs why not? Some Tibetans give their body parts to the vultures to feed on, many of us to the worms, and some to the fire. Such a waste if one of those organs that could have saved a human being is thrown away because of a belief.

    I'm signing up to become an organ donor because of your story. I may not be able to donate to you, but maybe to someone else nearer.

    PS Who says the Dalai Grandma has to be kind and gentle and sweet all the time? I had a generous and kind but scary grandma.. who spoke her mind and didn't mince words :D

  2. Glad to see you back. "In Unitarianism, ministers love to talk about interconnection, but not about kindness. That would be asking people to examine their behavior. Interconnection, that's safe. It's just something you imagine." So true! I think this happens even in Buddhist communities - leaning too hard on the abstract, and then thinking we have to be "nice" all the time. A big crock if you ask me.

    I honestly don't understand the resistance to your story and the brochures from the church. I understand the fear of taking on too much, but those issues can be worked out with those proposing something so that any "work" gets spread around. It just sounds like another example of being on the "outside" of an institution's agenda making process. I can imagine if you had a leadership position there, or was employed there, you're story would get presented. But since you're just a "member" (I'm assuming that's the case anyway), then it all comes down to whether or not your request "fits in" or is "easy" to deal with.

    May you be healthy and strong regardless of outside circumstances.

  3. I'm a donor. I just moved to Texas and they asked if I want to be on the internet-data base. If I continue on due to a car accident, time matters.

    What is your blood type Jeanne? That's an important piece of information.

  4. Hi Susan - I am type O. But even matching blood types is not necessary now that they are doing "domino" transplants, which match up live donors and subjects.

    Thank you, all. Your support was so important to me. Words are inadequate.