Back in the early 1990s, two students stood in front of the school at housemeeting and asked if any of the faculty would be willing to drive them to a blood drive in town. I went up to them afterwards and said I’d be happy to help. I’d always believed in the importance of blood donation, though I had never personally given, and I was happy to support two young people embarking on what I imagined would be a lifetime of helping others.
About a week later, I parked near St. James Episcopal Church and walked in with them to ensure everything was okay and also to be on hand if something did go wrong. They signed in with the volunteer at the intake table, who smiled at me and told me both kids were all set. “And,” she continued, “will you be donating too?” Both students turned to look at me with a searching gaze that told me I had absolutely no real choice. I briefly considered claiming that I had to ensure I remained conscious in case the kids needed me for any reason, but I was pretty sure both students as well as the volunteer would see right through that one. I smiled weakly and said, “Sure.”
Before I knew it, I was lying on a table with a needle in my right arm and blood pumping through little tubes into a plastic sac, both students looking down at me and wondering with feigned concern and a hint of a grin whether I might be feeling a bit faint. “I am not”, I told them, “thank you very much for your concern.” They laughed knowingly and went to the refreshment table where I joined them a few minutes later.
As we drove back, I found my initial annoyance at feeling I’d somehow been tricked had quietly given way to the realization that I had, after all, been tricked into doing something I had always meant to do in the first place. I also had the warm feeling that I, too, had helped somebody. I resolved to continue the practice. Though I didn’t always donate the exact day I became eligible again, attending blood drives became enough of a habit over the years that I was deeply upset when the Mad Cow disease scare resulted in my being declared ineligible to donate due to my two years of residence in France. For starters, as a vegetarian, I was pretty sure I hadn’t eaten any contaminated beef back in 1979 or 1984. However, rules are rules, and I went on an enforced hiatus of several years.
Earlier tonight, I was once again lying on a table in St. James Episcopal Church. As happens every single time I donate, wherever that might be, I thought back to that first afternoon when I inadvertently began my own lifetime habit and suddenly realized it’s now been 20 years. And I gave thanks for what those students had taught me, namely that having the right attitudes is meaningless unless you act on them.
– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean