It was not a normal birthday. Often birthdays are ﬁlled with cakes and parties and music and gatherings of family and friends. I was going to be in a small darkened room, with only my sister in attendance and a couple of medical staﬀ. Instead of dancing and mingling, I would lying almost completely still. I was not receiving gifts, but rather trying to give one.
Apheresis is the term that describes a blood donation in which they take blood from one arm, ﬁlter it to isolate the components needed, and then return the rest through a line in the other arm. The process takes a variable amount of time depending on the needs of the one who will be receiving the components. In this case, my sister who is dealing with leukemia was in need of t-cells. I had thought that this would be a shorter procedure than what we had done last August for stem cells; actually it ended up taking just as long due to some spasms in my veins.
As I lay there in the bed, warmed by an air blanket that inﬂated and kept me and my veins warm, I was pretty well relaxed. After the initial chatter with the nurses, I had settled down to looking at the ceiling and letting my mind wander a while.
I was overcome with a sense of gratitude at one point. I was so thankful to be here and to be healthy enough to contribute to my sister’s situation in a very tangible way. I was thankful to be able to be her donor. I was thankful for the family that has raised and loved me. I was thankful for the prayers of others which were lifting us both. I was thankful for friends in distant places and the mark they have made on my life. It would take too long to list all that crossed my mind and heart during that time. Every one and everything that came to mind just pushed me toward another gift I had received in my life. For a bit, I lay there with my cup overﬂowing with gratitude for it all. It was good that I was laying back and no one would see the tears that were starting to form in my eyes.
Gratitude goes well with giving. When I’m aware of how much I have received, then it is all the easier to give something away—even blood. Being mindful of the myriad blessings I have known makes me want to share them with others. On this day it would be my t-cells, but the next day there would be more chances to give to others too. I would send notes of appreciation and encouragement. I would oﬀer my gifts of prayer and music. I would oﬀer stories and pictures of times in the mountains that would be a blessing to those who are not able to get there. As my gratitude grows, so do the chances to give it away.
It was my birthday, and I realized that I am not just entering a new year, another lap around the sun, another cycle of seasons—I am entering a time in which I ﬁnd myself wanting to give more and more.
It appears there might be a scientiﬁc reason for this. According to an article I found: “Greater generosity [is] observed among senior citizens possibly because as people become older, their values shift away from purely personal interests to more enduring sources of meaning found in their communities,” says Dr. Yu Rongjun from the Department of Psychology at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, as well as the Singapore Institute for Neurotechnology at NUS.*
The article goes on to indicate that there may well be a change in neurobiology as we age that could account for some of this. We become more ‘ego-transcending’ as we age. We are more keenly attuned to the social context in which we live. It makes good sense to me.
We talk about young people arriving at an age of accountability, a time when they become more aware of their own individuality and how their choices aﬀect themselves and others. We talk about when people enter their age of majority in which they are no longer minors but individuals with their own rights and responsibilities. We talk about people entering their age of retirement when they can enjoy the fruits of their labors. And now we can talk about people entering their age of generosity in which they pour out their life’s learning and growth and resources to others.
People asked me about my birthday. I got to tell them the story of heading to Nashville and donating t-cells for me sister. I got to tell them that it was a long and literally draining day. I got to tell them that it was really just ﬁne. And I mean that. It was a day doing something I am delighted to do. I was giving myself away. It felt great. Of all the ages and stages I’ve gone through in this life, I suspect that this one may well be the best.