Have you ever donated blood? Until yesterday, I hadn’t. My only previous attempt was in the late ’80s, at a blood drive at my high school, when I was told my veins were too small. I’ve always assumed that there was no reason to try again, but yesterday I had three reasons to check that assumption:
- My mom, herself a regular blood donor, recently needed a blood transfusion following one of her chemo treatments.
- A new friend I met for coffee over the weekend, who was en route to donating platelets, shared with me a stunning story about a beloved member of her extended family surving a mass shooting thanks to donated blood.
- I’m actively looking for ways to find or (even better) manifest joyful things in my world that lead me away from hopelessness and into gratitude.
When I walked into the Red Cross donation center, I explained to the receptionist, a volunteer, that I had a 5:40 p.m. appointment. She looked on the day’s schedule but found my appointment time was blank–no name written there. “That’s OK,” she said, “I’ll write you in.”
I have an Italian surname that trips up most Americans, but as I enuncinated each letter after saying it, her pen was already moving one step ahead of me.
“I know how to spell that one,” she said. “I used to teach in a little town called Globe, and I had a student–“
I gasped and pointed a finger at her.
“Mayorano!” I said.
Her eyes lit up as it dawned on both of us that this was my fifth-grade teacher, whom I have not seen in nearly 40 years. She jumped up from her chair as I ran around to her side of the reception desk to hug her.
“Miss Mayo” used to teach math and didn’t suffer fools lightly. I don’t think I ever got caught in her crosshairs back in those days, but my memory is that she was not particularly warm, maybe even a little mean. She didn’t look much different yesterday except that her jet-black hair that used to hang down to her rump was now shoulder length and pulled back in a ponytail. “You’ve barely changed!” I said.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We talked for a long time before I was taken back for admission, and her warmth washed away my nervousness. Then she came and held my hand while the young tech successfully fed a needle into my little Fisher-Price vein, her company keeping my mind off the blood flowing down through the tube. (He kept calling me Mary, which is my mom’s name, even after I’d confirmed several times that my name is Jenny. I didn’t realize why until I got home last night, when I saw that Miss Mayorano had inadvertently scrawled my mom’s name on my name badge when asking how my parents are.)
After I finished my blood donation, Ms. Mayo and I sat together in the post-donation fuel-up area, where Red Cross keeps the snacks and juice. We laughed as I recalled how she always had in her bottom desk drawer all manner of candies, which only the best-performing students were (sparingly) invited to shop. We exchanged stories about our paths in life and where others we both know have ended up, including my old junior high gym teacher, who remains one of her closest friends and whom she texted on the spot to tell about our chance meeting. We then commiserated about the heartache of divorce and making new friends at our age. She told me about her travels and work and how she spends her days now, and I told her about mine. I did the math in my head when she casually mentioned her age, and realized she was only 21 or 22 years old when she was my teacher: a baby!
On our way out, “Miss Mayo” slipped a scrap of paper into my hand. It had her name and phone number scrawled on it in familiar handwriting that I remember from a chalkboard in 1983.
“I’ve been really struggling with work and life and just feeling not quite myself these days,” I told her. “So, I’ve been doing an overhaul of sorts and being very intentional about finding something that makes me happy each day. I thought today it would be donating blood, but as it turns out, it was you. You’re my happy moment.”
There have been many days after days lately when my well has been empty, and I feel like I have nothing left to give after I clock out. It all goes into my job, which regularly spills over into weekends and evenings, into every conversation, and away from the things that matter most in life, like my relationships, caring for my soul, and being alive to the bigger world around me. What a terribly unfulfilling habit this has become over time, leaving me with a sense of having to scrape together bits and parts from what’s left inside me in order to show up for my life! Now happily, happily, I am rediscovering that not all giving from the well drains it. Some fills it up.
To donate blood, visit Red Cross Blood Services.