This is an entry I wrote at 3:30 am the night of the transplant. Sasha was awake that night with a mild fever remnant of his virus and lay curled against me in bed. I was stirred by the transplant experience and unable to sleep so I grabbed a notebook and pen as I had done many times that week and just began to write. Several people have asked if I might share our experience. My handwriting is a challenge for me to translate but the piece went something like this.
We come to this day with a desire to devour life. This day is our new beginning--the one we have waited many months to call our own-- the hour that will change us in ways I cannot predict.
We come to this day full of anticipation and yet I don't know what to expect as I walk through the door to Aaron's room. Will he be meditating, reading, watching television, talking on the phone? Will he be colorful and animated or lost in sleep? We have been building toward this moment for so long, still I am strangely hesitant to step inside of it.
But we come to this day to claim the future, I remind myself, and it is time. The door opens then closes behind me. I find Aaron exhausted after a week of procedures, chemotherapy, examinations and interruptions throughout the day and night. I try not to look frightened seeing him in this way, laying so still with all of the equipment strapped to him, but he looks half his size suddenly in that bed as if a child, my child, and I want nothing more than to take him into my arms and immediately restore him.
A smile blooms across his face when he sees me. I can't get up to hug you, he tells me, then laughs. But I'd like to. I sit beside him on the bed and take his hand. For months I have spoken of spiritual journeys, desperate for Aaron to see this experience as something more than a medical procedure, but today these words do not need to be spoken. His soul is palpable in my palm.
Jake joins us, then the young Rabbi, who functions as the hospital chaplain. Together we wait for the cells and for Sarah and Aaron's mom to arrive. The time for the infusion changed throughout the day and settled on a time later in the evening. But just as soon as it was decided, it was changed again. Jake and I were already on our way to the hospital when we received the update and we called Aaron's mom to let her know that the transfer would be hours earlier and that they should come to the hospital. Her phone was off. Fortunately Jake later tried Sarah's phone and eventually reached her. Now they were rushing to make it in time, as once the cells arrived, they were meant to be infused.
The three of us speak quietly and intermittently as we wait, our eyes continually drawn to the clock. Minutes pass slowly and also too quickly. I see the drenching rain through the window and hear voices outside the door, but the room holds us separate from everything else that is occurring in this world. Today is only about our unfolding quest.
The atmosphere shifts when the cells arrive. As the nurse comes through the doors, I can see the bag small within her hands. For a moment, I almost believe it is more of the same--medication, saline--but even before I register with my eyes that it is indeed the cells, I am altered in their presence as if stripped naked before them.
She wants to hook up the bag and begin but we ask again if we might hold off another few minutes to allow Sarah time. The Rabbi suggests we say a prayer over the cells. The four of us hold this precious bag above Aaron's chest and each offer our silent blessings. I lose myself in this tiny package and speak to Aaron in my mind of love and health and renewal and transformation: of beginnings.
With the infusion of these cells, we are traveling to the origins of life. My eyes blink open and draw Aaron closer to me. This man that I love, pale and drugged, has been waiting for these cells and now they are here. He is either going to live or die and these cells are the thing that will keep him in this world. He will be found in those cells. I believe this. And my life is in those cells. It is not just his life I am fighting for, it is ours. We don't know what our new existence will look like, but what a miracle it is to be given this chance to look at our life and say yes, thank you, I want more. This is what I want--life, life, life to its fullest essence. And here it is in my hands waiting.
Perhaps I too had thought this to be a clinical experience, a procedure, not something that would move me spiritually. I feel my pulse loud in my ears and struggle to stay standing as if I'd been touched by a great healer and might swoon to the floor. G-d is present.
Sarah and Louise arrive before the nurse can hook up the bag and we take an opportunity to further pray over these cells. The Rabbi offers a blessing for us to share. Holy One, we gather this day holding a source of new life in our hands. As we bless these stem cells, we thank you for the donor who so graciously gave them; to give another chance at life. As these stem cells flow into Aaron, we trust in your care and blessing this day. We pray that Aaron's body be fully receptive to this new day of birth and as we go forward. Strengthen and bring comfort to Aaron's body, as each day will hold its own challenges. We beg for peace in body, mind and spirit, so that good energy will flow at the dawn of each day. Bless all those in Aaron's circle of love and support. Nurture their compassionate hearts and illume their lives so that your light be ever present to Aaron. Walk us into the future and we pray in gratitude for your blessing this day. Amen.
And with this, the Rabbi takes his leave from the room and the nurse secures the bag to the pole, then sets the process in motion. As I sit beside Aaron, I am hypnotized by the dripping of the cells into the tube. I am so alive in these moments and so desperate, I feel everything acutely. My senses are heightened. I believe I can feel the cells against my fingertips as I take the tube into my hand and trace along the surface to where it enters Aaron's body. I study the journey of these cells and think of our journey here over the past seven years and how much it has taken out of us and how much it has given us, and though I never wanted it; here it is.
Life is in flow in these moments. It flows from this bag from Sarah to Aaron, from myself to Aaron, Jake to Aaron, his mother to Aaron and all of us to each other. Yes, life is in flow and so incredible. I hadn't thought of the magic of this, only the necessity. That absolute need for this to happen so that Aaron could continue. For months I have felt that I would be at the end of my life if Aaron's life ended and I was struggling so hard and I didn't even quite see just how much until now as I watch those cells moving toward him. Now I am in the tube with the stem cells gifting them everything of myself. Now I am watching Sarah exclaim when the first of the cells pass into Aaron's body. Our eyes meet. Those beautiful green eyes that I have seen looking into my soul since we were teenagers. This man, ready for life. And here is comes.
And now I am floating in G-d's palm and I am grateful, so moved by the cells sailing so steadily on their mission that I want to sing, but can't. One word slips from my throat: Hallelujah and I grab my phone and play this song. Aaron listens but I can see that the music is not moving him the way that it moves me. If only I had made a transplant play list--but who knew? After my song concludes, Aaron makes his choice. He plays It's a good day by Ice Cube. Just waking up in the morning and gotta thank G-d. I don't know but today seems kinda odd. ..... I can't believe, today was a good day.... Today I didn't even have to use my A.K. I gotta say it was a good day.
While Jake thinks this selection is very pimp for a transplant, the nurse admits that it is a first. But Aaron seems satisfied and has assumed control of the accompanying sound. I surrender and remain entranced by the cells. Eventually chatter between the others unfolds and I want to shush them all and ask that they appreciate the reverence of the occasion but then decide that we will each take from this what we will.
When I bump into the Rabbi in the lobby, I share with him how much I had wanted to remain in the spiritual realm and not slip into the mundane and that I wished he could have remained in our presence as an attendant to the divine. He laughs and reminds me that this is the way with ceremony for most of us, that we start with our heart full of intention and ritual and then things degenerate into family time.
Though the talk shifts to news of lives not dependent on what happens in this room, still there is a question outstanding. Has Sarah collected enough cells today so that we are done or will she need to do a second collection tomorrow for a follow-up infusion? Though no one wants this outcome, I secretly begin to consider how I might better plan a ceremony worthy of such an occasion. Perhaps I will have songs all laid out and everyone will say something special to Aaron. Perhaps I might even convince Aaron to talk more about his own experience of the process. Before I can get too caught up in the possibilities, the phone rings. The news is good. Sarah's young body has done its job. Aaron and Sarah are both relieved.
After the last of the cells have found their new home, Sarah and Louise say their good-byes. Jake and I sit with Aaron for several hours and notice how much his face has flushed with color and life and confidence. When Aaron declares himself ready for bed, we also say good-night. It is difficult to leave him tonight but as always he wants me home so that I might hold this baby on my lap should he need me. Jake and I are carried through the dark streets by something other than our own feet. Jake tells me that he considers himself to have always been lucky and that he transferred some of that luck to those cells which are taking root in Aaron. I believe that Aaron will one day feel these prayers more than any of us realize.
We come to this day with need and hope and desire and friends and family who stand beside us.
It is a good day.