I feel as if I just returned from a trip that entailed sheer cliffs, hair-pin turns, long treks through the desert without enough water, and being lost in nightmared woodlands — because that’s pretty much what happened even if the actual locations were only my house and the local hospital.
Long story short: a week ago, I had an upper GI bleed, and became dehydrated and anemic to the point of telling an ER doctor I would kill for some IV fluids. He granted me my wish along with two pints of brand new (at least to me) blood. After two trips to the ER, a bunch of procedures, and lots of doctor visits to hear what happened and what scary amount of blood I lost, I’m okay and healing, and I’m wondering what it means to have some new blood.
Of course I have a renewed appreciation for blood donors, and for the first time as a receiver, I understand quite viscerally why we need to share the love and the blood in this world. At the same time, it’s astonishing to be wandering around with someone else’s blood helping my own multiply itself, and there’s nothing like such an experience to help me know how much we interconnect.
There’s also something about getting new blood that breaks my being open in gratitude, vulnerability, and, most of all, peace. Yet this is not the peace of all things smoothed and gentle; it’s quite the opposite. I recently read Bernie Glassman’s essay “My Wife Died Unexpectedly Last March,” a short meditation he wrote over 15 years years ago in the months following his wife’s death. When people ask him how he feels, he says, “I’m raw,” and then explains:
Raw is letting whatever happens happen, what arises, arise. Feelings, too: grief, pain, loss, a desire to disappear, even the desire to die. One feeling follows another, one sensation after the next. I just listen deeply, bear witness.
While what I went through is nothing compared to Glassman’s loss (and not a loss at all for me), the jangly peace I feel, rough-edged and tender, resonates with some of what he says about feeling raw, bearing witness. I’ve noticed that after big life sweeps — the loss of a friend or parent, a medical emergency, a long stretch of excruciating uncertainty about something essential to one’s life — land us in this utterly alive place where everything is itself, only more so, perhaps as it actually is but as we rarely see. The vibrant blue of the sky pierces everything with light. The photo of my friend Jerry, which I set up a few days ago in memorial, shimmers with his love for the world. The headaches that roll through me, the sunlight on the fake-wood floor, the quiet tropical taste of the banana, the warmth of the tea — they all stand on their own legs. Even the mouse hotel stuffed chair (what a surprise to lift that cushion), now on our porch awaiting deportation, is what it is after months of depositing a mouse a day in our house for the cats to chase.
It turns out that the new blood is actually a song to awaken the old blood of who I am beneath constructed identities and in relation to all others with a pulse. Now that my own pulse is not skyrocketing well over 140, I breathe in the miracle of healing with gratitude and peace for all.