Yesterday was my rebirthday. I spent last November 20th having open-heart surgery to repair a badly malfunctioning mitral valve. My cardiac rehab specialist told me in February how lucky I’d been. “The first symptom for a case as bad as yours is often collapse and many don’t live long enough to make it to the operating table.” A combination of luck, providence, and skillful medical care gave me a much happier ending to my story. This Thanksgiving I feel as if I have more for which to be thankful than most do: my family and friends, a wonderful new job that I love, and something that many people don’t get: a second chance at life. A lot of things that seemed really important to me last October didn’t seem very important at all by last December; I was still alive! I’ll be around to see my grandchildren! Poet Mary Oliver asks, “tell me, what else should I have done?” November 20, 2017 gave me the chance to answer that question.
In the past year I joined a couple of facebook support groups for open-heart surgery survivors. We offer advice and comfort to those about to have/just having had surgery and we celebrate each others’ rebirthdays, or “valveversaries,” as only others who have been through it can really do. One of the groups is called “The Zipper Club” in honor of our matching scars. Before the surgery I dreaded wearing–for the rest of my life–the big ugly scar that would accompany the surgery. A year later the scar has faded and I ended up not being bothered by it anyway. It feels more like a badge of honor. It’s a souvenir of where I’ve been, and a reminder of where I’m going.
So this year I celebrate and give thanks for survival. Last year’s Thanksgiving dinner was a hospital tray with my beloved Samantha and JonDavid perched on the sides of my bed. This year I’ll be able to sit down at the big family dinner at my sister’s gracious home, with my two-year-old grand nephew–who will amuse and delight us all with his irrepressible toddler charm–and with my 85-year-old mother–who will probably get mixed up and call her children by her siblings names–and with 30 family members in between. We’ll eat so much pie for dessert that we’ll go for a walk at the college with some combination of the nine dogs in the family and then come back and giggle and play silly games until we’re ready for more pie. And in those ordinary and extraordinary moments, I’ll pause and become aware of my 59-year-old heart still faithfully pumping away in my chest and I’ll give thanks and celebrate my “one wild and precious life.”
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home; All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin…
(Quotes from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, and “Come Ye Thankful People, Come” by Henry Alford)