I got a phone call on Wednesday afternoon. “You registered with the National Marrow Donor Program in 1999,” said the woman on the other end. “We’d like you to know that you matched to be a bone marrow donor,” she continued in a cheery voice.
In 1999 I had just joined my synagogue, and knew only a handful of people. A member urgently needed a bone marrow transplant, and a drive was organized. I had never paid much attention to that sort of thing; I was pretty self-centered, but was beginning to learn what it really meant to be in a community, to step up and do my part. So, with no small measure of self-congratulation, I showed up one evening and got my cheek swabbed. I remember the moment clearly, because I struck up a conversation with the woman who took all my info. I asked if she was a member. Yes, she answered, and told me her name; she was the wife of the former rabbi, and I was very embarrassed not to have recognized her. She laughed—you’re new, no big deal! A pleasure to meet you. Is everyone here so nice and gracious? I wondered.
For a few years I got an occasional newsletter in the mail from the registry, but that stopped after awhile and I completely forgot about it—until the call on Wednesday. (I didn’t believe her at first, and figured it was some weird telemarketing scan.) I was utterly shocked and ecstatic, but don’t yet know if I can donate; blood tests tomorrow will determine the answer. The odds of a non-family-member getting to this stage are about 1 in 20,000, and for those matches, 1 in 12. According to the NMDP website, www.marrow.org, most donors match with a number of people at first, but further tests are needed to find the best choice.
At services on Friday night, the rabbi spoke about the difference between Pesah and the Yamim Nora’im [the High Holy Days]. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we choose God; we pray that God recognizes this. On Pesah, however, God chooses us. As we commemorate the time when God led us to freedom, we’re reminded that God also gave us the strength to lead ourselves out of many other kinds of mitzrayim [Egypt; also, literally, “narrow place”]. But we don’t always see that we have this choice. First we need to open our eyes, and then decide to take action. Whether or not I make it to the donor finish line (I many not hear for months), I think this amazing event is a reminder that I have the power, and choice, to do my part to help others out of mitzrayim, as well—through tzedakah [charity], kindness, awareness that we all share space on this earth and need to look out for one another. On Shabbat morning, the rabbi connected the sacrifices described in Leviticus, which we began to read last week, to the current drive to live lives closer to the earth (i.e., The Omnivore’s Dilemma). Behind either task is the desire to become more integrated, either by joining the act of worship to the animals and objects that surrounded the Israelites on a daily basis, or joining the business of daily life (holy, in its own way) to the earth that nourishes us. Both, ultimately, help connect us to one another. Everyone was required to bring sacrifes to the Temple; no one person alone could fulfill the commandment. And if you want to become a locavore, you need the help of a nearby farmer and CSA.
Fulfilling either mitzvah requires cooperating with and helping your neighbor. Being a potential bone marrow donor is the same. The more people who choose to join the registry mean a greater chance that someone’s life will be saved—and it is no sacrifice at all to join.
(Meanwhile, I don’t know how I’ll be able to concentrate on anything at all until I find out whether or not I can donate.)