I read a letter written to our family the other day from the 24 year old girl who got one of Abraham’s kidneys. I wrote back to her yesterday. It’s all anonymous and it’s all through the donor network. She’d had kidney disease since she was a newborn and she ended up chained to dialysis for the past eight years. That’s no life for someone her age. She was very happy, very grateful to be free of all that now that the kidney “took.” The operation of course was the same day – August 19 – that they took the organs from Abe. A memorable day for both of us: a wonderful day for her and her family; far less so for me and mine. I was very glad to hear from her though: her letter made me feel personally the wonderful power of this gift of organ donation.
As I wrote to her, I thought about the way in which her entire daily life has been determined by this terrible kidney disease she was born with. Not so different, I thought – and told her so – than the many ways that Abraham’s daily life was determined by the circumstances of his birth to a drug addicted mother and his subsequent entry into the world – it’s more like an alternative universe – that we’ve named foster care. What changed daily life for this lucky recipient was one operation three weeks ago today to get that new kidney. What changed it for Abe was…..nothing.
Everywhere I look I see the same thing: blame, blame, blame. It is as though we learn to blame ourselves as early as we learn to speak. Apportioning the blame becomes our way of living. I heard the line the other day from “Ted” about how whatever he had done that I was on him about, he had not done “on purpose.” Where the heck did that nonsense attempted umbrella from blame come from in our culture? Does it make a difference, really, whether we do it on purpose or we do it because we weren’t paying attention or we do it because we weren’t thinking or we do it because we don’t care enough to do it otherwise? What matters is that we accept the responsibility for what we do, or don’t do. That is, what matters is that we recognize that we did something that we could have done differently had we chosen to. Or recognize that we didn’t do something that we could have done had we chosen to. Aunt Rita taught me – and many others – that truth.
Responsibility means that we have to respond to the circumstances that we find ourselves in. How those circumstances arose is an entirely different question – but it would still be a question of responding to the original circumstances, given our ability to do so as we were then.
Abraham was no more responsible for the circumstances of his early years than President Obama was for Abe’s life. But Abe was stuck with the consequences of those circumstances. And the number one consequence, I believe, is that he believed that whatever happened to him was his fault. That is how kids think: parents divorce? “It’s my fault.” Mother died? “My fault.” Father a drug addict who left us abandoned? “I did something wrong.”
And “my fault” brings us right straight to blaming ourselves. Blaming oneself must have some payoff for us, since it is so incredibly common. Maybe it gives us a sense of control which allows us to block the deep pain of our parents’ divorce, death, or abandonment. Hell, I am in the midst of blocking (much of) the pain from Abraham’s death. I am well aware of it; I have written about it in this blog. I am doing it right now as I write. But yesterday I realized that soon all the work related to Abe’s death will be done: the thank yous finished; the organ donations history etc. etc. On that final day, when I put the cards away and so forth, Abraham will become part of my history; no longer present to me – and I dread that day mightily. My ability to keep blocking will end at some point, because the blocking is a temporary measure giving me control over my pain. The key is the word temporary.
Whatever Abraham was dealing with from his history was obviously not history for him. Something was keeping the self-blame active and present and not temporary. That something even led to him putting himself in the circumstances that led to his death.
That “something” is not unique to Abe. Almost everyone of us who loves our kids who have foster care histories, have experienced that non-self-protection of our kids. But who the heck is working on it to figure it out; to help our kids – victims of the society we have created, or at the least allowed to remain the way it is – get past it? Societies can change. I have lived long enough to watch cigarette smoking, e.g., move from acceptable and “cool” almost anywhere and everywhere to forbidden and “disgusting” almost anywhere and everywhere. We have the power to change society. Where is our motivation, our funding, and our belief in the possibilities?
Where, in other words, is the equivalent of a kidney transplant for our kids? On August 19th, at day’s start, while Abraham was in the operating room, this girl was suffering from her kidney failure. On August 19th, at day’s end, she was not. She didn’t solve her problem – we, as a whole society, did. We invented this incredible transplant cure. Where are the inventors for those who suffer like Abe?