giving blood, sweat, or tears (or expertise, or time, or money, or...)

I have never really felt like a “normal” person. While I can celebrate this now, in the days when normal seemed like such an admirable distinction to achieve, I felt a mass of complicated feelings about my self. As a result, much of my childhood was spent feeling conflicted. Directly to this issue, I spent a lot of time, as a 16 and 17 year old, planning my 18th birthday and telling no one about it. When the day arrived I was giddy with excitement. I got up early, ate a huge breakfast, and chased it with 4 mammoth glasses of water. Hydrated, heavy enough to meet the minimum requirements, and anxious to execute my plan, I arrived at the blood bank a full 15 minutes before they opened. Yes, you read that correctly. My biggest dream at 18 was to give blood. Given the 24 month build up, it would have made sense for the experience to be anti-climactic. It was, however, not. I saddled up to the post donation “snack and drink” station beaming! I had finally “arrived.” I scheduled my next appointment and vowed to myself that I would give blood every 8 weeks, no matter what. This was too important not to commit to and I was good at commitments.

Two years earlier, a child that I had cared for regularly was hit by a car. It was a horrible accident that took place as my community of love/family/support was departing from Bible Study at Wally and Carol’s house. Adam was rushed to the hospital where I arrived a few hours later not because I thought I’d get anywhere near him or his family but because I simply couldn’t not go to where he was. I’m wired for hospitals and waiting rooms and the middle of the night vigil shift. In the 24 hours that followed I spent a lot of time caring for Adam’s siblings, phones rang (no such thing as email or text chains back then), meals were brought, and all of the grown ups in the community who could give blood gave it. I tried everything I could think of to get to be in that group. I had been raised to look for creative solutions to obstacles but nothing I could accomplish could make me the legal age for blood donation. So, time passed, Adam recovered, and life went back to (mostly) normal. Deep within me, however, was an unresolved conflict with time, rules, and the Red Cross.

I thought of Adam (and Modesto and Alpha Omega and my love/family/support community from childhood) today as I gave blood. As the donation staff registered me in the system I warned them that, at some point, tears would likely flow. These would not be related to the pain of the prick or the process but because I was facing into a lot of disappointment with myself and a lot of feelings about the day. I was giving blood in honor of a certain person* and in solidarity with a specific community whose building housed this particular blood drive on this important date**. I felt passion and emotion akin to what I experienced at 16 when I had craved the opportunity to contribute to Adam’s healing in a critical way. Along with all that passion was a heaping dose of disappointment.

Here’s why: I no longer have to stuff myself to meet the weight requirements for giving blood and no one scrutinizes my license to make sure I really am the age I claim to be. I have a highly needed blood type and could donate as often as every 8 weeks. Giving takes less than an hour and costs me nothing. There are blood drives near my home weekly and I get calls and emails offering donation scheduling that is so simple that it is nothing short of ridiculous that I don’t make the appointment. Even still, today, I realized, was my first donation in 11 years. My 18 year old self would be ashamed of me.

For reasons simple and complex only around 35% of the U.S. population is eligible to give blood. Of that 35% only 6% donate regularly. It takes approximately 20 minutes to determine eligibility and the need for blood is profound. There are so many reasons (and very easy ways) to give and I still put it off. There are, in fact so many things that cost so little to give. Recently, my friend Cassie introduced me to the bone marrow registry. It costs nothing to enroll (if you are between 18 and 44) and gives a person the power to directly save a life. The assessment is sent to your home and requires nothing but a cheek swab. It seems to me that there is no reason we aren’t all swabbing our cheeks (at least those of us under 44) (for full information click here).  In addition to the pure logic of need and abundance, a wealth of research exists thattells us that volunteering can reduce the symptoms of depression and a new study out of the University of Rochester reports that performing an act of kindness leads to increases in feelings of happiness and calm even when the act goes unnoticed (a part of the study I particularly love). When these forms of giving can be so easy and so rewarding it is stunning to me that I don’t give more.

Giving blood may not be your jam. Heck, you may even labor under the assumption that giving (in general) isn’t your jam. That’s o.k. I’d just like to direct your attention to the feelings you experienced the last time you offered the thing that you are best at/most accomplished in/comfortable with/have an excess of to someone or something other than your self. Remember that time that you did that which was easy (or at least possible) for you and it benefitted someone else? Can you recall the time that, without really thinking about it, you ended up making someone’s day (or saving their life)? That time you smiled at someone and they ended up weeping, so in need they were of kindness? Or when, walking by the retirement home you saw a woman fall from her wheelchair and you ran to help her up and find someone to care for her injuries? Or the time you held that young single mother’s wailing baby on the plane because she was traveling alone with three children under 4? Or the occasion you anonymously sent cash to someone who was about to be evicted? When you pulled over in the middle of snowy nowhere when you really had a place to get to in order to help the family who had just spun out on the ice, totaled their car, and were bleeding? Or when you sat in a recliner for 15 minutes, were showered with gratitude and goodies, and gave blood, saving three people’s lives? Remember how good that felt?

Neither of us can give everything. We all, however, have things that are easy, cost us very little, and can make a huge impact on the world. For some of us it’s blood (or platelets or kidneys), for some of us it’s time, for others it’s money or a listening ear and steady shoulder, and, for the special few, it is the unbelievable gift of bread making. I know of a person recently who divested a grocery store of their excess egg cartons to give to a farm that provides eggs to families in need. I have friends who play music at Altzheimer care facilities, others who read with kindergarteners, and some who collect rain water in an effort to leave more for others. There are people who stuff envelopes for their favorite non profits and people who mail checks to theirs. In Portland there is an organization that will glean whatever fruit you don’t want from your trees and give it to those who need it.

Everywhere around us are stories of need. Complexity and conflict abound. The news is (usually) bad. Emotions are high and we are pulled in many directions. We are weary. And yet (actually, let me try that again) AND YET we all have so much for each other. I believe (I HAVE TO believe) that every person on this earth has something that the world needs and that it is only when we all stop looking for someone else to offer it that everyone will have what is needed. I must look deeply inside my own being and see what it is that is mine to offer. Then I must offer it without either feeling it is insignificant or feeling certain that it is the most significant. When each of us offers what is uniquely ours to offer (be that blood, sweat, tears, a shoulder to cry on, money, time, expertise, a knowledge of what is a weed and what is not and the willingness to rid the garden of the former, or a loaf of warm bread) and does so on a regular, affordable schedule everyone benefits and everyone belongs.


If you need help finding ways to give that fit with your unique being, here are a few questions that might help you:

What do you hear others complain about having to do that you find either easy or fulfilling?

What do you enjoy doing so much that it would be easy for you to double your efforts in order to give some of it away? Cooking and baking fits in here as does gardening (making starts or giving away part of your bounty). Knitting, crocheting, and sewing are all hobbies that can be engaged in for the purpose of giving away. Are you a reader? If so, there are plenty of people who can’t read who would love some of your time. Look to senior centers, schools, and libraries. And speaking of libraries, if you adore the feeling of them you could always add an hour there by volunteering to shelve books.

If you had a large sum of money that could only be used by giving it to a “cause” or particular “population,” what would that be? After you answer this, brainstorm what this cause or population might need that intersects with what you can offer. Don’t stop too fast. Push yourself to think about how your unique being might benefit this cause or people/animal group. For example, most non profits have some sort of office space that they cannot afford to have professionally cleaned. Doing this even once for them may just be a huge gift.

If you really can’t find something that feels unique to you, don’t let that stop you. Don’t just stand there. Do something. Find more “mainstream” ways of giving and keep trying until you find something that “clicks” or feels meaningful. Volunteer for a civic or community event, sort food at your local food bank, mow your neighbor’s lawn, bring someone a meal, do a prayer walk in your neighborhood, donate clothing to Dress for Success, offer mock employment interviews to students or young adults looking for jobs, pick up trash (did you know that David Sedaris picks up trash as a hobby? Seriously, he’s won awards for this.), get trained to offer respite care for foster parents, and, by all means, give blood if you can.


*    The donation I made on this day was to honor the life of Molly (Jamie) Woolsey who died last June and who I love(d). Her mom was scattering some of her ashes that day on the East Coast and I desperately needed a way to commemorate the moment and feel connected to them.

**      I gave blood on June 12th in particular at the Q Center in Portland Oregon in order to both honor Molly (who I met with after her first group there and who was deeply blessed by the community and support she found there) as well as to recognize the one year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting (the largest mass shooting in American history). I am grateful that, in a world where being gay, trans, queer and many other brands of “different” is risky, violence is prevalent, and gun violence common, people work diligently to make sure that places of safe haven and sanctuary exist. Thank you Q Center and NW Bloodworks for providing me a place to honor those whose lives were lost on June 12th last year and for serving your communities like only you can.