Thursday, December 5, 2013

Miracles Can Happen

While boarding a flight back to Michigan with her sister, 24-year-old Natalie Taylor had a tough time concealing her emotions. An elderly gentleman remarked, “You two look very upset.”

“My husband was in a bad accident,” Natalie replied.

“Well, just remember,” he said, “Miracles can happen.” Then he moved on to find his seat.

Five months pregnant with her first child, Natalie had planned this trip to Florida to visit her sister Sarah as a final hurrah before the realities and restrictions of motherhood set in. Her vacation was cut short, however, when a friend of her husband’s called from a hospital to tell her about the accident. 

“He mentioned bleeding and I kept asking him ‘Where was the blood? Where was he bleeding from?’” Natalie says. “The minute he told me, ‘the mouth,’ I knew it was bad.

Growing up, Josh Taylor was a very science-oriented kid. He loved chemistry and went on to major in it at college, where he met his future wife. “He was more scientific than spiritual,” says Natalie. “I never really saw him read anything religious in nature; he was always saying ‘let’s talk about what we know for sure.’” As a case in point, Natalie dug through a box of momentoes to find Josh’s college thesis for me. Its title? Oxidation of Trialkylboranes Derived from Terminal and Symmetrical Internal Alkenes Via Potassium Permanganate: Unexpected Coupling Reactions. Point taken.

Josh cycling across the country for charity.
After college, Josh went to work for a medical supply company, selling devices used in the procurement and preservation of human organs prior to transplantation. Having volunteered with an agency that worked with troubled kids, Josh had developed a strong humanitarian streak, and as such, he was excited that his professional work combined two of his passions: science and helping people.

Josh had been carveboarding (think: surfing on a downhill road) when the accident happened. “They told me the trauma to Josh’s head was so severe his entire brain stem was crushed,” Natalie recalls of her candid conversations with the doctor. “He said, ‘Everything from the neck up is destroyed and his brain is not working. From the neck down, however, everything is perfect.” 

Although Josh had not signed an organ donation card, Natalie knew exactly what her practical, caring, and fit husband would want: to not waste a set of healthy 27-year-old organs. And so she gave her consent, signed the paperwork, and even noted the irony in seeing the logo of Josh’s employer on various forms and equipment throughout the donation process.

At her husband’s funeral several days later, numerous friends tried to console Natalie. “People said all the typical things to me: he’s in a better place, he’s at peace, this was God’s plan. But Josh would’ve said, ‘Forget all these common niceties. Let’s talk about what we know for sure.’” And what we know for sure is this: six people’s lives were saved by the loving decision of a pregnant young widow. 

Though for different reasons, the man on the plane was right: miracles can happen.

Natalie and her son, Kai. 
Natalie Taylor is the author of the memoir, Signs of Life, which I highly recommend.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, free.  Click here and go to the link below the "Buy the Book" button.  Zuzu's Petals is also available on Kindle and Nook.  Hardcover signed and inscribed copies are available at Happy reading!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Best. Pick-up Line. Ever.

 When asked how her first training session to be an English tutor went, my friend Cathi – then a college sophomore – told her mom it was fine, but added, “I have to work with this totally loud and obnoxious guy though.”

A week or so later, Cathi ran into Albro – Mr. Loud and Obnoxious – at a fraternity party and the two spoke briefly. While Cathi still felt he was rather loud, she was able to move past her initial assessment of him as obnoxious. Then Albro moved in for the kill: “Do you want to work on the UCLA Blood Drive Committee with me?” he asked, explaining that he was chairing it. 

Albro had donated blood regularly ever since one of his high school teachers, Mr. Poe, called it a “valiant act” and explained how it saved lives. Knowing that his father had died while on a search and rescue mission during the Vietnam War, Albro decided to follow his dad’s example of saving lives, and he chose blood donation as his vehicle.

Cathi and Albro, 1981
Cathi agreed to help Albro with the UCLA blood drive, which allowed him to secure her phone number, setting in motion a series of events that neither could fully appreciate at the time. 

But what Cathi neglected to share with Albro was how utterly terrified she was to give blood herself. A year earlier she had participated in her dorm’s blood drive, which had resulted in severe chills, vomiting, and two hours of post-donation oversight by the blood drive’s attending nurse. While lying on a stretcher off to the side, Cathi overheard another student ask, “Is she going to die?” After that experience, Cathi decided there was no way she would ever subject herself to another blood donation needle. 

Until 30 years later, that is, when Albro told his family – his daughter Neva, three sons Albro IV, Ian, and Alden, and wife Cathi – that the only gift he wanted for Christmas that year was for the family to go to the local blood center and donate together. And so they did. The three eligible children were not at all nervous, as they had each already taken the initiative to become blood donors on their own. Cathi, however, steeled herself for her second donation attempt ever, and after one failed try with her right arm, she was – fortunately – successful with the left.

As for Albro, with the exception of being deferred following a few surgeries and some international travel, he has donated blood consistently for 36 years – wherever he can and with whomever he can: the Red Cross, Torrance Memorial Medical Center, UCLA Blood and Platelet Center, and church blood drives. And while his loudness has been tempered (slightly) with age, he can still frequently be overheard promoting the merits of blood donation to others.

Soon, Cathi and Albro will celebrate 30 years of marriage thanks to the best pick-up line ever. At America’s Blood Centers, we like to say It’s About Life. But sometimes, it’s about love

The Lundy Family: Cathi, Neva, Albro IV, Albro III, Ian, Buddy Blood Drop, and Alden
(editor's note: Evidence suggests that Buddy is not actually part of the Lundy Family)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, free.  Click here and go to the link below the "Buy the Book" button.  Zuzu's Petals is also available on Kindle and Nook.  Hardcover signed and inscribed copies are available at Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Little Girl

You were five, I was twenty-nine.

While your mother and I laughed and talked of our business plans and then laughed some more, you quietly moved closer until you were snuggled into my side on the couch. Your mother took notice and told me you’d never done that, that you were always shy around strangers. Your mother loved signs and she took this as a good one.

I grew to love you and your brother. I loved our Chuck E. Cheese outings. I loved our Amy Grant shout-singing sessions as we drove in my red SUV, which you’d named Rosy. I loved that crazy Thanksgiving when neither your mother nor I had much money so we pooled whatever freezer-burned items we had and invited anyone else without plans to join us with whatever freezer-burned items they had. Nearly twenty people crammed into my one-bedroom apartment and you spent the night rubbing my dog’s belly as you snuggled into your mother’s side on the floor.

When your mother asked me to care for you and your brother if something ever happened, I agreed without pause. A year later, cancer happened. You and your brother, seven and nine at the time, watched as she hemorrhaged on the floor of the public library before she lost consciousness. That must have been terrifying for you.

It took a decade for the cancer to claim your mother, so strong was her desire to be there for you kids. You and she had a fight the night before she died and when she asked you to stay with her, you refused. You never forgave yourself for that, no matter how many times I told you she already had.

When you asked me to perform your wedding ceremony two and a half years ago, it was I who wanted to refuse. I didn’t think you and your betrothed were ready for the commitment of marriage, despite the baby growing within your womb. But stronger than my misgivings was my desire to remain a part of your life, to stay connected to you for those times you’d need to figuratively snuggle into my side. 

Having your own daughter changed you. Leaving your marriage changed you. You rose to the challenge of being a single mother and it seemed that all the previous false starts of your life were drifting farther and farther into your history. You held a steady job in a stable company. You got promoted. You bought a better car, one more suitable for transporting a toddler to and from daycare during the workweek. And when I came to visit you a few months ago I told you how proud I was of you, how happy I was for you and for the joy you had found in motherhood.

But I missed the signs.

I didn’t see how much you were showing your brave mommy face to the world while battling your demons in private. And now I want only to rewind the last 48 hours, to board a plane, to come to your apartment and sit on the couch with you. I want to tell you that you are loved—LOVED!—and that whenever life overwhelms, you must trust that things will get better, that they always do. 

Right now, I want nothing more than to pull you close and snuggle you into my side.

Farewell, Little Girl

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
My goddaughter, Christine, had no life insurance or savings to secure her beautiful and funny little girl's future. If you would like to help, please join us in supporting Reilly and ensuring that this sweet two-year-old has the funds she needs to launch a college education or career when she turns 18. It takes a village, and every bit helps. Many thanks in advance for supporting the Christine Young Memorial Fund. Feel free to private message me with questions regarding the fund:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Goody Two Shoes

A few weeks ago, I hosted my co-author on a new book project at my home in Boulder, so we could begin outlining the story of how he gave one his kidneys to a woman from Ethiopia, whom he’d never met. Just because.

Harold is tall and affable and has a bushy grey mustache that dominates his face. He’s the kind of guy you meet once and feel as though you’ve been pals forever. He met his wife on a blind date and recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. He has a daughter, whose artistic creativity he regularly showcases on his Facebook page. He works with his best friend from high school who was the other half of the class-clown duo, their late ‘70s “Joke of the Day” morning program a huge hit until banned by the principal for overstepping the line.

Harold chaired his neighborhood’s annual blood drive in Virginia for years until he and his family relocated to Los Angeles, where he launched a new neighborhood blood drive program. And in between the blood drives he coordinates, he commutes to his local Red Cross to donate blood every eight weeks. Like clockwork. Just because. 

To put it succinctly, he’s a true mensch.

Since first encountering the force for good known as Harold, I’ve had the privilege of also meeting the recipient of his gifted kidney, a diminutive and soft-spoken woman who immigrated to the U.S. in 1987 and then spent more than a decade on the kidney transplant list. That the paths of these two conspicuously dissimilar people crossed in a manner so profound makes their saga a true love story, not in the romantic sense, but in the unconditional sense the Greeks called “agape”—a selfless love that neither demands nor expects anything in return.

While Harold and I were writing together at a coffee shop during his recent visit, a woman whose misfortune was apparent approached the outdoor area where he and I sat with our laptops. Her weather-worn skin and long stringy hair piled haphazardly atop her head suggested a life hard-lived. Wearing thread-bare jeans and a ratty faded print top, she looked directly at Harold, as if deliberately selecting him from the array of people that filled every table on the patio. 

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, her gaze never wavering. “Could you give me some money so I could get a meal?”

Many of the coffee shop’s patrons—myself included—had turned to face the woman during this encounter, but quickly returned to their laptops and books and lattes once they heard her request. Not Harold. Without fanfare, my giant altruistic buddy stood and walked to her side, discreetly pulled a ten from his wallet and engaged in a brief and muted conversation before returning to our table. Before I could say it, Harold cut me off. “I’m not a goody two shoes. I’m not.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, smiling playfully because I’d just witnessed yet another example of this man’s kind and gentle approach to having an impact in the world. “That woman,” Harold said, “that’s my mom. That’s my wife. That’s my daughter.” And I got it. I totally got it.

I believe this essence of agape dwells within us all. It’s there. It’s real. And in giving expression to it—as a pint of donated blood, or a ten dollar bill for food, or any number of other ways—we multiply its impact exponentially. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, free.  Click here and go to the link below the "Buy the Book" button.  Zuzu's Petals is also available on Kindle and Nook.  Hardcover signed and inscribed copies are available at Happy reading!