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36: Life, Doubly So

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

I love my birthday. Maybe more accurately, I love anticipating my birthday... the countdown, the "it's almost here." For several years on and off, I've hosted a virtual blood drive, asking people in the 100 days before my birthday to donate blood in honor of my birthday if they can. I set a goal of 36 pints for this year, but haven't yet reached it -- so if you're reading this and the spirit moves you, please feel free to continue donating and let me know when you have. If you're not eligible to donate blood, consider making a donation to Children's National Hospital, the Ladybug CDH Foundation, or any other medical-support charity that holds meaning for you.

Today I am 36.

I'm writing this in the Healing Garden at Children's National Hospital in Washington, DC.

I went to donate in the blood center here today in honor of my birthday but unfortunately wasn't eligible today. Ugh, my fickle body. Confessing that my mind went to -- "sure, you couldn't make a whole human correctly, what makes you think you should be able to donate blood, which used to be so simple?"

And my blood pressure was high, which it isn't usually.... reminding me that although I appear whole most of the time, re-exposing myself to a place of so much trauma and stress with now three of my four children, in a variety of medical departments, is not something I can just wish away. Even if I can box it up outwardly, my body still feels it. (puh-puh-puh, May we only come here in the future for times we elect to come and not have another medical crisis for which our children need attention.)

Ronen would have been almost 4 now ( "3 and 3/4," his older siblings would say). Crazy how the time flies; I feel like I've lived a whole extra lifetime since then. Hell, maybe I've just become a whole different person. I still watch with wonder at the children I know are the age he would have been, and marvel at how amazing they are, how grown up they are, wondering who he might have been alongside them.

At least in being down here I did the blood test for HLA antibodies, so perhaps they'll let me donate platelets instead of whole blood in a week or two if I pass.

As I sit here in this calm space amidst the chaotic memories, in the shadow of Ronen's old NICU window, I reflect on a lifetime of learning, teaching, playing, grieving, and growing. The number of days of Ronen's life I have almost had in years on this earth.

36 is double the numerical value of the word "chai," the Hebrew word meaning "Life." Sometimes I feel like I have lived enough for two lifetimes, and sometimes I feel like I live a double life, the outward so disconnected from what will always haunt me internally.

And so, as I wipe the singular tear that just fell down my cheek and reground myself in the world full of both haze and blessing, I wish for myself this year further recovery; strength, vulnerability, confidence, and space. May we all heal. May we have opportunities to celebrate as a family, to appreciate the successes at in our community, our home, and our world. May I recognize and celebrate my own accomplishments.

And as Ronen's memory will be a blessing to me and to those whose lives he directly and indirectly touched, I bless myself with opportunities to honor his presence in my heart as my eternal teacher and my beloved invisible child.

With gratitude to God and to everyone who continues to lift me up on the days that are happy and when the happiness gets complicated...


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