Back in December, I decided to get a jump start on my New Year’s resolution to clear out my inbox, which contained an embarrassing 20,000-plus emails in my personal account alone.
Several friends suggested I archive them, but that felt like hiding the clutter under a bed. Others told me to hit “Delete All,” a concept that gave me palpitations. Instead, I began sorting the emails one by one to make sure I wasn’t throwing the pickles out with the brine.
It turned out I’d missed an interesting communique from the New York Blood Center. The staff there thought I might like to know that the blood I donated in November had been used to help patients at a specifically named hospital.
I’ve been donating blood for 15 years, as regularly as my body has allowed. Though I’ve received thank-you letters before, this was my first mitzvah note to detail my blood’s destination. Intrigued, I called the blood center. While the representative informed me that these notifications were new to their system, she opened my online file to see for herself. “Isn’t that nice!” she said. I agreed, glad I’d ignored the suggestion to delete all of my emails without sorting through them first.
Giving blood is a chesed, a kindness, and its sole reward is the act itself. Yet I admit that I initially became interested in donating for a more trivial reason. From the time I was a child, I coveted the little blood drop-shaped lapel pins the local blood center gave out to donors — to advertise blood donation and inspire others to follow suit. Hospitals and blood banks are always in need of fresh supplies.
My interest piqued at a young age, I seized the opportunity to give blood as soon as I was old enough — at age 16, with special permission from my parents. I still wanted a pin, but by then I understood the implications of rolling up my sleeve to help accident victims, cancer patients, newborns, and others whose lives hang in the balance. Blood, a powerful force that does so much to keep us going, is replenishable, too, allowing us to say, “Here, take this! I’ll make more.” It’s mind-blowing, really, and yet another reason to thank God for the wisdom with which He designed our bodies.
Before I hung up the phone with the rep at the blood center, I shared how grateful I am each time I get to donate. Many folks, for one reason or another, are unable to do so, and I wasn’t always able to either. I also mentioned that I never got over my affection for those lapel pins, though I love the blood drop-shaped stickers that say, “I Saved a Life” as well. “Three,” she said, correcting me and upping the ante. “One donated pint of whole blood can save up to three lives.”
I’m going to pause here for a moment so we can let the miracle of that possibility sink in.
All it takes is about an hour from the moment you register until the phlebotomist wraps your arm with a bandage in the color of your choosing. Before you head home, you get to hang out at the blood donation recovery snack table, which has a food culture of its own, including little yellow packages of Lorna Doone cookies and cute bottles of apple juice. Plus, it’s a nice chance to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow donors.
According to Jewish tradition, saving a life is one of the most important mitzvahs on the books. And as the well-known line from the Talmud teaches us, saving a life is equivalent to saving the whole world.
I’m in awe when I read about heroes like transplant surgeons and kidney donors, fire fighters who run into burning buildings, Righteous Gentiles who risked everything to rescue Jews during the war, and others who give wholly of themselves to save a life.
But we can change the world in smaller ways, too. As the poet William Wordsworth wrote, “The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”
I’m proud to report that I’m down to 16,746 emails as I write this column, and continue to make steady progress on clearing my inbox. But I’ll be down another pint soon as well. I’m due to donate blood next week. Consider popping into a blood drive near you — at your synagogue, your kids’ schools, or even the local library. Or feel free to join me. We can split a pack of Lorna Doones.