Wednesday, December 12, 2007
It’s six weeks since the transplant. Six weeks is the magic word. We were told that after six weeks we would be able to pick up heavy objects again and more or less return to our normal activities.
Most of the time I don’t even think about it any more. I can’t feel a thing, and the periods of fatigue have passed. Last Wednesday we went into Amsterdam to attend our daughter Wendy’s graduation from the University of Amsterdam, where she received her Master’s Degree with glowing praise for her thesis on George Orwell. We took a late morning train, attended the graduation at noon, went out to lunch with the rest of the family, walked to the new Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to see the Andy Warhol exhibition, and went to a special dinner with the family again that lasted until late in the evening. Got home at almost midnight. I don’t think we would have been any less tired if we hadn’t had the transplant.
I’m back at work. I’ve alerted my translation clients that all is well, and the assignments have started to come in. Today I finally mailed in the final papers required for my mother’s Dutch residence permit, which still hasn’t been issued after living here for six months.
Life goes on. The big event, which I had been awaiting with quite some apprehension, is passed. All is well. Even the scars are barely visible. And yet…
There was that thing I did. There was that yes. There was that “fiat.” We went back to church the Sunday before last for the first time since just before the operation. It happened to be a Sunday with a guest priest assisting in the sanctuary, a friend of ours originally from America, Fr. Stephen Headley, now archpriest of the Russian Orthodox church in Vezelay, France. He preached a sermon on the Mother of God, and he told us that her life is the model of how we should live out the gospel. “Fiat” is what she said at the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel came to her -- let it be done according to your word. She was not a deus ex machina, handily inserted at the right moment to make sure the prophecies were fulfilled. No one said a word to her about prophecies. Gabriel simply explained the situation to her, and she said yes.
I’ve been spending the past several months reading the Harry Potter books, and one of the main themes in the series is the futility of prophecies. In her creation of a world of witches and wizards, Rowling wanted to make it clear that she was not interested in having her plot hinge on the magical fulfillment of a prophecy. She has little patience with fortune-telling. The one teacher at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft who is responsible for teaching the prophetic arts is depicted as a well-meaning but ridiculous fraud whom no one takes seriously. In the end, Harry is not the victim of a prophecy but the hero of his own freely made decision to act out of love.
Before the transplant, during the early stages of the selection process when I was still undergoing test after test to see if I was a worthy donor candidate, I was asked to meet with the hospital social worker. We talked for about a half hour, maybe longer, and basically what she wanted to know was whether I was being coerced or guilt-tripped into offering my kidney. Donations made under pressure are not accepted. Only those who offer their kidney freely can get past the AMC social worker. This is as it should be.
After having said her yes, the Mother of God -- as St. Luke relates it -- sings a hymn of thanksgiving, the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” What is she giving thanks for? For the fact that “henceforth all generations will call me blessed,” that her future reputation is secured? For having been chosen to be the Birthgiver of the Savior, for having won a cosmic sweepstakes? Or was she thankful for having been given the opportunity to make the decision in the first place, thankful for having been so fully challenged, thankful that God drew forth from her the full strength of her humanness, thankful that God put her in a place where she was required to fight her fears and to make a decision that was not based on what her friends might do, or what her parents might want, or what “common sense” informed by popular culture might instruct. Her yes was uttered from a deep trust that God would be with her, that her will and God’s will were aligned. This is really beyond obedience, because she didn’t surrender her will to God. She was not a victim of some almighty and unavoidable power. She decided to sing in God’s key, as it were, because she knew that it was the key of truth and love.
When you sing in that key, even if only for a moment, things can never be the same. That’s what I feel right now, even as the scars are fading.
(The Annunciation icon was painted in Russia in the 12th century. Double-click to see it enlarged.)
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Posted by Jim and Nancy Forest at 10:14 PM