Savanna LaBauve, a buddy from my college church group and a fantastic artist, asked me to write a bit for her art show, “Foundational Dwellings.” My writing was in a section about visible breath and air movements. I’ve never published this type of writing outside my blog, so I was hesitant until I actually saw her work and instantly connected with it.
She saw the 200-tile installation as a representation of lungs — “inflated and deflated, a collective breath” — which reminded her of my CF/transplant journey. I agreed. The edges of the piece look diseased, a bit like my old lungs did. The center is unmarked and fresh, a clean slate. Savanna is crazy talented!
The following was placed in a tiled frame at the show:
His last exhalation led to our first inhalation: the collective breath of two men who never met, yet now share an identity.
After 23 years of fighting cystic fibrosis and a slew of infections, my rotted, scarred lungs were ripped from beneath my ribs. In that void, his lungs — full-bodied and unscathed — were delicately placed.
It’s easy to think of lungs as organs and nothing else — if you’re not the one losing and receiving them. In the transplant community, there is a mythology of sorts that organs carry their identities with them, transferring the appetites and skills of the donor to the recipient. We are encouraged to see the organs as both a gift and a responsibility. I now carry the lungs that gave a man his first and last laughter, first and last gasps of surprise, first and last heaves of pain, first and last words. The lungs should be treated with respect; they are not mine, they are ours. We will have many firsts and lasts together, breath by breath.
I don’t know my lung donor’s story, or even his name. But when enduring struggles or celebrating joys, I’m doing it for the both of us. His death led to our life, a clean slate, and it will not be wasted.