OTR, Take 12 - Last Christmas

Life is an incurable condition. It's terminal, but as Wallace Stevens wrote, "death is the mother of beauty."

Last night, I'd fully intended to write a short OTR about the greatest Christmas album ever made, A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. I really dislike almost all Christmas music, but I can listen to that album any time. It's a stunner of a jazz recording, with all the nostalgia that comes with anything Peanuts-related. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I didn't go pull out my record, but this is the copy I have.

But last night at 3:30 am, my brain decided to take me down a different rabbit hole. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night with incredibly vivid memories that you had entirely forgotten about since the moment happened.

In December 2019, I had been listed for an organ transplant for about a year. For those of you who haven't been through the process (which I hope is, and will continue to be, all or most of you), there's a Whole Thing you have to go through to be qualified and placed on the UNOS list. You have to be medically qualified (both in terms of having a dying organ and being otherwise healthy enough to survive the surgery), psychologically qualified, socially qualified. They'll interview your whole family.

Seriously, it's like trying to get hired by the FBI.

Once you've been listed, you...wait. I got weekly blood labs to check how my liver was holding up, and for a long time the tests came back, "Yeah, this is bad, but not bad enough to move you up the list." At one point a nurse surreptitiously fed me tips on how to juice my numbers.

It's a slow, steady, and deliberate mindfuck waiting for something so life-changing and indeterminate. You do not know when you're going to get the call to get to the hospital ASAP so the doctors can cut you open and swap parts.

Anyway, in December 2019, my wife wanted to go see a new Christmas movie, Last Christmas, starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding. Audra loves Christmas movies; she and my mother annually get together for a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon. So, during a period when I wasn't a whole lot of fun, I agreed to see the film.

Wham!'s "Last Christmas" is a central motif of the movie. Last year I gave you my heart. Emilia Clarke's character is in a slump, not feeling great about a lot of things. She has some fractured relationships with her family and work friends (she works at a Christmas shop). Then, one day, she meets Henry Golding's character and they hit it off. He exposes her to the charity work he does and took her on a magical, surreptitious ice skating adventure.

And then he disappears. She goes to all of the places that he took her to, looking for him, but nobody knows who she's talking about.

This is where the movie became a little on-the-nose for most people watching and where it became an existential crisis for me.

As she gathers clues about this guy, it slowly dawns on her that he's been dead for a year. That he'd been an organ donor. And guess who'd had a heart transplant just about a year prior?

Last year I gave you my heart.

Yes: Emilia's character was the recipient of Henry's character's heart. She'd been getting visions from him helping her learn to see the beauty in life. Or having a psychic break. You can interpret how you'd like.

Watching her dragons commit mass murder.

In December 2019, I was not in the best mental space for this film. Every time I saw someone I knew, the only thing they wanted to talk about was how I was feeling, about when I thought I'd get transplanted. I had been told by my doctor that it could be five years before I got my transplant – I have a hard-to-match blood type. It is easy to get jaundiced (pun fully intended!) by the whole process, to sour on so much of life.

And as I sat in a suburban movie theater, watching this movie unfold before me, I was utterly overcome with emotion that I didn't know I was repressing. It dawned on me for the first time that someone was going to have to perish for me to live. That I would be carrying around in me a piece of another life. That I would have a deep responsibility to care for myself so I also cared for the gift this person gave to me, to honor the loss his family felt.

Somehow, I made it through the whole movie. Audra, I suspect, was sitting next to me with a rising sense of horror and dread – not the typical experience at a saccharine Christmas film But when we got back to the car and I got behind the wheel, I lost it. It erupted out of me. I'm talking ugly crying. The kind of emotional overload that disabuses you of any hope of untangling all of the threads.

Everything seemed like it was so much.

Less than a month after that Christmas, I received a call at 2:33 pm instructing me to get down to Allegheny General Hospital by 4:00 pm. They had a potentially suitable match.

Please be kind to people. You never really know what's going on in their lives, and we're all doing our best to get by. This endeavor can be especially difficult during the holidays.

Thank you all for reading and connecting with me. Drop a note or a comment if you're enjoying the newsletter. I know many of you are reading on email and it's difficult to determine if I'm writing into a void.

Happy holidays, folks!

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