The Chinese say losing something small prevents losing something big. This has become my mantra of late. And my wife reminds me of it when I obsess about forgetting my sunglasses at the airport. She’s right; this has probably kept me from losing an eye. If it sounds superstitious, I prefer to think of it as folk wisdom. Losing something small causes us to be more mindful and appreciative of the big things we have.
My life of the last 10 years has been all about building and acquiring. Now suddenly it’s become about losing and giving away. This disassembly is a critical phase that most of us try to avoid. We build ourselves up and try at all costs to keep from breaking down. But breaking down renews us. The wearing-away of our surface ego reveals the essence of who we are. It refines and polishes the soul as smooth as an agate.
I’m not a religious person, nor do I consider myself ‘spiritual’. I’m just an observer of how things work. Yet I know that I’m the creator of my own experience, so what I observe is nothing more than the reflection of my own interpretations. The birth of my daughter and her illness is part of the story of my life that I write. Were I religious, I would say that this story has been written for me or that I am a mere instrument of the writer. Ancient desert superstitions aside, a life-threatening illness really makes you question who or what is in control.
Natalie will spend 12-14 hours in surgery, followed by at least two weeks in ICU isolation. I know I have no control over the outcome, and I have complete control of how I feel about that. Some friends tell me that she’ll be in the hands of God, to which I think: actually, she’ll be in the hands of the surgeon and the nurses. And they’re all Buddhist. I understand the message; don’t dig yourself an emotional grave over something that’s beyond you.
While I may not have control over the outcome, I have influence. I continually communicate my confidence with the surgical team, remain upbeat, joke with the hospital staff. I’m purposefully creating a sense of ease among those whose sphere of influence affects the outcome of the transplant. Those who pray for Nat contribute to the network of emotional support that buoys our spirits, including the baby’s. I believe all of this collectively matters.
As I prepare for my own seven hours in surgery, I now realize what I am about to undergo is a privilege. I get to know great devotion in a way that most people will never experience. If not for these dire circumstances, I might not otherwise recognize the opportunity to wholly commit myself in this way. As Gandhi said, the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.