Thursday, January 31, 2013

Four Years

Today marks four years since my heart transplant. Three and five are rounder numbers in our base ten number system because they are prime, but this four feels like a big deal to me. That is partly because at my current stage in life I measure my time in school terms and I am at the same point in school as I was when the whole ordeal occurred. It is partly because this is the first year I have enough distance to properly reflect. 

This is what I said last year-
Three years ago today I received the best gift ever, a new lease on life due to a life-saving heart transplant. I am thankful every day for the family that gave me their loved one's heart. I send my love to that family today and celebrate all that I have accomplished in my bonus years. Without the person that donated life I would never have graduated high school, gone to college, or become independent. Today I am successfully beginning my second semester of college with more new friends and great experiences than I could have ever imagined three years ago.

That is short and lacks proper thinking and reflection. It's all true, but not particularly inspired. This year I have done a lot of writing and I think I can do better.

In the last year one of my breakthroughs was labeling my experience as traumatic. I didn’t want to do that because I wanted to be brave and normal, but like my friend Shannon says, “the fact that you can function without being a mess is a miracle.” Being a little traumatized is okay. Why do I think I’m traumatized? 

  1. In four years I have never forgotten my medicine. I don’t have alarms. I don’t have reminders. I just obsess about my heart in my own mind often enough that I can be sure that around 9am and 9pm it will probably pop into my head. 
  2. I still don’t really like helicopters. When I was in the hospital most of the organs came in by helicopter. I thought of them as an oncoming doom. Still, when they fly overhead my stomach turns. 
  3. All of my stories are about hearts. I don’t write about my surgery directly because it comes out as choppy simple sentences (the hallmark of trauma), but my fiction usually is centered around a young doctor and my nonfiction is usually a single instance that, like the blog, always circles back to the fact that I almost died. 
Realizing and accepting these facts have been helpful to me. I am no longer frustrated by my boring stories because I realize they are me weed-whacking through pain. I can write through them now until I reach the good stuff that leaves people speechless. I can do that yoga thing and say, “that was a useless thought” without obsessing over my obsessive thoughts. In short, I’m more normal than I was before. I’m not healed, but I’m more functioning than I’ve ever been. I'm really really happy. I have life satisfaction.


I have a great support system to help me in this venture. The 87 people on Facebook who liked my status about being alive are only the beginning. My family, as always, is helpful. There are few problems that can’t be fixed by a chat with my parents. My friends at school... a few made me a card that brought tears to my eyes. A few will celebrate this day with me soon, which I’m sure will be special. A few are amazing humans that will listen to me tell the same heart transplant tale innumerable times and still be interested. These people know my truest self and they still like me. My friends at home are faraway at times, but they make it alright to go home even though I get trapped there, unable to travel. 

I am most thankful to my donor, health insurance, and medicine, of course, but without Make-a-Wish, Guild Wars, family, friends, and a little hope I might not have been the same person. There have been many moments in the last four years where I could've just never been Emily again. There were moments where my happy center was hidden beneath layers of mean people, poor circumstances, and the general brokenness of life, but I have always come back to me by listening to my inspiring friends, playing empowering games, and waiting until the suck level of the world decreased. I am more successful right now due to the heroes of my life than my wildest dreams could have imagined four years ago.

I'd like to say I was always grateful and I never questioned this gift I received. I'd like to tell you I never felt survivor's guilt for that teenager who died. I'd like to let you know that I always felt I earned the amazing opportunities and relationships I have. Honestly that is untrue. It's taken me four years to realize I am my identity as a heart transplant recipient. I have the most fantastic, wonderful life because I am allowed to know that every moment is a gift. Most people forget that fact. I learned it the hard way and it took me four years to write that I have not cheated or stolen anything. I am a messenger. I am a reminder. I am a soldier fighting for people to realize that the time we live in, the tick-tock, Kronos time, is the only time. The only thing we can do with that time is create a legend and be extraordinary. Then after, give that gift to someone else.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Having Idols

I am not against idolatry. I am very much for it. I think having people or even ideas of people that you consider exemplary is a really good way to stay positive and driven. It starts with your parents of course. Until I was nine or ten I cared for no one's attention more than my mom and dad. I wanted to be as smart as my dad is and as persevering as my mom is. I love my parents and brother as much as ever, but my range of heroes grew slowly until I had an array of examples from favorite teachers, characters, and athletes to the current professors and authors I try to emulate.


Sometimes I lift these people up in my mind to a degree in which their presence overwhelms me, but this power can be used for good. If I pick the right idols the work I do to impress and be worthy of them is time well spent. I don't know if I would have tried as hard in swimming if Jacqueline and John didn't believe in me. I don't know if I would have been as successful in Shakespeare if I didn't know that my favorite authors really valued it. The trick is to pick idols that push you to read, learn, spread kindness, stand up for dignity, push yourself to be productive, be charitable, and spend your hours on good projects instead of the idols who will not motivate or enlighten you.

Everybody's got a hero. Even your heroes have people who inspire them. They had parents, coaches, and mentors too. If I ever become someone's hero I want to be a good example of how to live fully and richly. I like the idea that someone else might someday look to me as an example of how to be wise, brave, or supportive. I'm only a twenty year-old in college now, but I have idols who think I can achieve something epic.