Giving It Away: Gratitude and Attitude.
Yesterday I was up in Liberty for a meeting of Heartland Presbytery
That’s the regional gathering of Presbyterian Churches in our denomination
All of the pastors and commissioners from congregations were there.
We have members who live in Liberty.
One of our new members joining today, Steven, is from Liberty, as is Eryn.
Landon, who preached last Sunday, lives in Liberty.
It’s good for me to make that drive now and then
So that I don’t forget what its like to do it
And I can remember to thank Eryn constantly for that generosity she extends
Week after week.
On the way home from Presbytery, I noticed I was crying.
It wasn’t from the meeting, or the drive
But from the story on the radio, which was poignant and sweet and moving.
They weren’t tears of sadness, not really, though the story wasn’t free of sadness.
There is ample sadness here.
This was a story about losing an infant child,
and I have many friends who have lost a child like that. With many tears, healing tears.
But there was beauty to it, though my tears weren’t happy tears either, not quite.
More tears of joy, tears of amazement.
The radio program and podcast is called Radiolab
It’s on our local NPR station, or you can get it on the internet.
They were recounting the experience of Ross and Sarah Gray.[i]
Maybe I found it more personally impactful than most, because
Ross and Sarah got married and were pregnant with twins.
And their story made me think of our twin daughters.
Sarah and Ross found, sometime during the first trimester of their pregnancy
That one of the twins, Thomas, wouldn’t survive much past birth.
He had anencephaly, a condition where the child’s head doesn’t form correctly.
On the program,
Ross and Sarah described this weird experience of planning for one child
While carrying two children to term, weird for a whole bunch of complicated reasons.
They welcomed Thomas and Caleb, and when Thomas died,
They said goodbye, and donated some of his organs for research
Eyes, liver, cord blood.
A year or two later, they wanted to know what became of those donations.
They had made inquiries, and got some basic responses
about which labs were doing what, generic answers.
But they wanted to know, you know.
One day Sarah found herself in Boston, working a convention at the Hynes center.
She googled one of the labs, the one in Boston doing some eye research,
And she called them.
This startled the switchboard operator, who,
in her more than 20 years with the company
never ever had fielded THAT phone call before.
Sarah wondered if she could come by, you know,
Have a tour. See what they did. Maybe speak to the people doing the research.
The radiolab people paused here, noting how tenuous this sort of request was
Research is research. Sometimes things pan out, and sometimes they don’t.
It wasn’t clear that she would find anything satisfactory.
That’s how research goes.
But the operator connected her to someone in donor relations
Now, that’s donor relations as in financial donations, development.
The lab didn’t really have someone on staff to connect with families
of the donor organs
But development people are the ones who work with the public, give tours
That sort of thing
So they made the arrangements and Sarah went down over her lunch break
And she got to look around.
She saw the offices and the labs and
They walked by the researcher working on the particular project.
He was at his desk, eating lunch
A Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.
He invited her to sit down, and he explained who he was
And he said thank you for the donation
And he asked if Sarah had any questions.
Sarah had a thousand questions.
Were the eyes useful?
Do they get a lot of eyes, or just a couple?
Do they sit up in a box, collecting dust?
The researcher put down his lunch.
And he said to her: most of the eyes they got were from people who were older
Because most people are older when they die
But infant eyes are worth their weight in gold.
They have these regenerative qualities, you see
That make them extremely valuable to scientists.
And, in fact, they were still using Thomas’ cells, due to this.
Sarah cried. That’s when I started to cry.
This led her to track down other donation sites.
A lab in North Carolina, where the liver went
Wasn’t able to use Thomas’ liver for their principal experiment,
But they did use it to help determine the optimum temperature
to freeze infant liver donations, negative 150 degrees.
The cord blood, from both Thomas and Caleb
Went to another lab, where they are doing comparisons
To try to find out how genetically identical siblings can nonetheless
Develop these sorts of medical conditions in utero
And the donation helped isolate thousands of epigenetic differences
That one day may explain anencephaly.
In one of the labs, when she went to the break room
She saw a picture on the bulletin board of her son Thomas
With a little sign: Thomas Grey was a donor here, March 29th, 2010.
The retina went to a researcher from the University of Pennsylvania
Who was working on a cancer of the eye that almost exclusively affects children
And she, the researcher, had been struggling herself
With the knowledge that these healthy infant retinas are so valuable
They’re essential to her work,
And they are so rare,
and every time she gets to work on a new healthy retina donation
That these are bittersweet things, so valuable, so important
But that there is a story of grief behind each one.
That grief was impacting her spirit, the researcher.
But then the researcher got an email from Sarah to arrange a visit
And she wasn’t so sure she could do it. Could she meet with her?
But they met, and she got to sit with Sarah
And that moment was so meaningful, for both of them.
Sitting with Sarah helped the researcher understand
The indescribable gift she is given, each time she receives a donation
And Sarah was able to see how valuable Thomas had been to her
Maybe even priceless.