Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Miracle on 1st Avenue: The gift that keeps on giving

“Tonight is your answer”. And with that, we chose change. And with that we started change. And with that we felt change.

The streets of New York erupted in celebration. Shrieking, laughing, honking, singing - in jubilant rows of legs and lungs we swept New York and thanked each other. There was no floor and no sky, no edges confining us. The elixir of hope and alcohol made for one huge epic rush as that verdict turned us inside out on the world. All our stories gooping together into one candidate, one word America, one mish mash of the barrel scraping bottoms and red hot victories and bone crushing, sky-stripping loves. Each of us in debt to the next person and paying it forward to the last.

I watched the acceptance speech on my way home alone along First Avenue, edging in to a crowded bar in the East Village where I couldn’t see the television but could only hear the words. The TV could only go so loud so the crowd was self regulating its own volume so that we could all hear. And once he started talking, even the sideways drunks and the out of town indifferents fell silent. A world away my brother listened to the same words that I heard, used the little energy he had left underneath height of radiation sickness and post-transplant cell die-off to walk in circles on the tile of the sealed bone marrow transplant floor, dragging his IV pole behind him. “He’s not feeling great.” Said my mom. “But he’s up”. We may not be feeling great, America, tired of being in arms, tired of problems with no pretty faces and tired of just saying “ok”, but we’re up.
Last week I got the greatest gift I’ll ever receive – the ability to give the greatest gift I’d ever give. We always love our brothers. But they don’t always earn that kind of deep-seated, gravity-defying respect that comes when you watch someone just keep ‘getting up’ like that. They kept telling me I was saving his life. I thought that was pretty funny. As if I could take credit for perfect genetic matches, medical miracles and all the hard, dirty, blood-crusted work he'd put in to survive. I'd just flown in for a weekend holiday at the What-It-Takes-to-Beat-Cancer Motel. I wasn't saving anyone's life, only helping this cool guy (who was still my brother even without eyebrows and eyelashes) save his own. And the pleasure, as they say, was all mine. Its me who should be thanking him. For showing me how to live bigger. Give better. Love wider.

He looks a lot different now. And when he gets better he’ll look different yet again. He, we, will be different. Starting now. And there will be more - more sleepy thanksgiving dinners, more sickening losses and untidy misgivings, more falling-down-the-stairs in loves, more day by day by days of our lives that are both so big and so little. Things will never be the same again. Thank God for that. Its time – for Change.

For transplant patients who have to die before they can live, they call last week Day Zero – your "second birthday". And they count from there. Days and then weeks and then months of your new life. Yesterday was Day 7. And a new birthday for the proper noun we like to call America. Just like radiation sickness, GI tract cell die-off and the effect of chemotherapy on the kidneys, birth is an ugly thing. But beautiful just the same. One week old. And a couple of stem cells later. Let the living begin. Or continue, that is.

Some people on the streets of New York fell over drunk, some flew up in exhilaration, some cranked up the music, some jumped down into the crowds. Some used big words like “hope” some small like “Yes”. Some woke up in soft arms to bright eyes, some fell asleep across windy sidewalks and tapping feet. Some said thank you thank you, some didn’t, but more than just a few of us were grateful. Some listened wide-eyed and wild haired to Obama’s words as they carried across the country, not without their own timbre but simply bringing, in echoes, our own hopes back to us. Me, I just couldn’t stop laughing. “Tonight is your answer”.