Back in the day it was a popular story to be read at Christmas — the O. Henry classic “The Gift of the Magi.” It’s the story of the young and poor Della and Jim as Christmas approached.
Della wanted so desperately to get her husband a fob for his watch, a family heirloom. Della’s only possession of any value was her beautiful brown hair, which she cut off and sold to get the money for the fob.
The story ended as Della revealed her shorn hair as she presented Jim the fob on Christmas Eve. Then he revealed his gift to her — tortoiseshell combs for her long hair that he had purchased by selling his watch.
Cue Christmas music.
The story was in the sacrificial giving, not in the gifts. “Of all who give and receive gifts,” O. Henry wrote, “these two were the wisest. They are the magi.”
I have known Annamarie for about 10 years. Since I am older than dirt and she is just a skosh my daughter’s senior, I can say that she is quite the beauty.
Last January, her younger brother Rick finally checked himself into the hospital for what seemed a particularly mean-spirited case of walking pneumonia. It wasn’t, and it only got worse as his lungs filled with fluid and his kidneys began to shut down.
He was finally diagnosed with a rare disease where the body cannot break down proteins and the kidneys begin to die. As will the patient.
Annamarie was tested for a kidney transplant for her brother. Their blood types were not compatible. But she had heard about “organ sharing chains,” part of the National Kidney Registry.
Annamarie would donate her kidney to a compatible stranger; a different compatible stranger would donate to her brother. It was all part of a wider chain, linking strangers to strangers.
She never really discussed it with her brother. “My brother needed help,” she said, “and I could do something about it. By going this route, it essentially cut Rick’s wait from possibly four years to a matter of months.”
There was a personal pilgrimage to the decision, however. She wasn’t sure if she had the courage to do it. But then, as a woman of deep and defining faith, she said that “God showed me that this is what he wanted me to do.”
“The thought of donating to a stranger turned me off at first,” she said. However, through “a journey of prayer and conversation with God, it turned into excitement. … I wanted to be part of something huge where a number of strangers would help each other out in an act of love and be bonded together for life. When the call came that our kidney matches were found, it dawned on me what an awesome gift: to find out why God gave me life.”
Today, Annamarie brushes off the surgery like a minor inconvenience. Physically she is fine. Emotionally, however, she’ll never be the same.
“I learned even more fully that when you walk the Way of the Cross out of love, the journey can be transformed into a Walk of Joy. When you place yourself in God’s hands, he will shower you with grace, giving you courage and strength beyond what you thought possible.”
Annamarie’s donated kidney went to a 45-year-old woman in Chicago. Her brother’s new kidney came from Someone.
It’s Christmastime and her brother is doing fine. He’s back at work. They don’t speak about it much. Her brother has a tough time talking about her gift that made his life possible.
A stranger gives the gift of life to a stranger … so a loved one can live.
“These two were the wisest. They are the magi.”
Have a Walk of Joy this Christmas.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.