From the archives …
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What kind of feelings does this picture stir in you? At first glance to me, it looks stark, grey, grim, empty, lonely, and apprehensive. It’s a little scary with those two eyeless creatures looking like subjects of some Poe poem…almost the sense of vultures circling as vanguards for the even darker figure of death.
Those feelings that this image conjures for me are familiar. All of those, and a few others, are pretty descriptive of the way I felt when I first heard that I would need to have a transplant. While my foggy recall from those days makes specifics difficult, I do remember sitting on my hospital bed, chatting with Sandra who was sitting on a chair near my bed with my dad sitting and reading in a chair at the foot of the bed. One of my doctors walked in and he had a bit of a smile on his face – but it seemed that smile was rather obdurate – like nothing was going to remove it. “Mr. Gerber, Mrs. Gerber, can we talk?” he asked looking at Sandra. I guess that made some sense – I think he knew her better than me at that point. I spoke up and introduced my father, and said “Sure, I hope you have some news” and pointing to the last chair in the room invited him to have a seat. He chose not to, and proceeded, “Well, we’ve got the results back from all the testing we’ve done. (again, eye contact with Sandra) We’ve got as good a medical picture as we’re going to get. The liver is failing and is too sick to help. There is nothing we can do. The only option is a new liver. (And then, finally looking at me). Do you understand that in order to survive this you need a liver transplant?” There was a pause that seemed to last at least thirty seconds, it may have been only two or three, and he again spoke, again looking to my wife: “You will be talking to more staff today and over the next weeks.” And then, I’m sure not on cue, his cell phone rang. He looked at it, the floor, and said “I need to take this” and walked out the door. And no, the smile never changed.
The three of us sat there for I don’t know how long. At first, there was a blessed numbness that surrounded us. My father looked at Sandra, Sandra looked at me. I remember one tear leaking out of the corner of my eye. And then the emotional anesthesia began wearing off. That’s when the feelings of starkness, greyness, grimness, emptiness, loneliness and apprehension began washing over me. I literally felt out on a limb waiting for the rest of the tree to fall taking me with it. That’s what I can tell you about how I felt when I was told that I needed an organ transplant. What didn’t occur to me for quite some time after that was that moment was not the beginning of the end, but rather no more or no less than one more step in this journey called life. Nor did I realize that it was a type of beginning – a beginning in a new chapter of my love story.
Let me tell you about this photograph. One of the annual events that Sandra and I came to look forward to was the time of year that these large birds would build a nest in the tree over our neighbors house. I don’t know for sure what kind of birds they are – cormorants maybe. And if my lucky guess is right, I sure don’t know anything about cormorant life style. But this was the tenth year at the same time of year that two birds looking the same would return to the same branches on the same side of the same tree. For the next couple of months we would watch them build their nest, stick by stick and then guard it from other flying foes. The two of them would collect their building materials together. Most often, they flew off together and returned together. Until their eggs came. And then we watched as what we called the Daddy bird would bring in supplies to the Mommy bird, and stand guard. There could be some fascinating air defensive battles that would make our cross the bay neighbors at MacDill Air Force base pretty impressed. Then, we’d see two or three little heads just above the edge of their nest. They would be fed by Mom and Dad, and eventually get big enough to be seen standing on the branch outside of their home. And then one day, they’d all be gone…but two would be back to do it all over again in the cycle of life.
I took this picture when our dogs decided that a predawn trip outside was necessary. It was after my transplant. This is not a black and white photo. It was the first we had seen of them this time around. Looking at it I remember the old proverb, “It’s always darkest before the dawn”. These two birds were actually anticipating the start of a new day – together. Their eyes reflected the glow of the as of yet visible to me light that would, in just a few minutes, fill the scene with fresh colors of another beautiful day. They had a lot of work to do – together. They had a lot of challenges to face – together. And together they would again bring new life into our world.
Yes, my first blink reaction to the picture in my mind feels the same as when I heard the words “you need a transplant”- all the cold, grey, frightening grimness that a first look at my picture might bring about. But as we moved from those words, and we had to, we had things to do and challenges to face, I realized that my transplant picture was like this one – not necessarily what those first impressions were. Yeah, it looked bad, but my partner, Sandra, was never more than a limb away. We were out there together. Bad days? You bet. Less then nice words passed back and forth? Absolutely. But someone once said: “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” That’s why, from the moment I heard those chilling words to right this moment I can say that I would not be here if it weren’t for Sandra.
For all of us who have heard those words, and for all of you who may be hearing them, knowing the strength that comes with a simple loving touch is where everything begins – the dawning of a new day. Life is good even with repeats!