After posting my encouragement that you should tell your story because you never know how your story might help another, one of my lifelong friends, Tom, reached out to share a story with me. I got the messages late at night. “OK. I will tell you my story.”
I read it to Mark who said, “Powerful.” I woke up the next morning and it hit me like a ton of bricks: this story must be told.
Tom only tells it 1:1 when it matters. “If I were to tell it, it makes me sound like an asshole.”
I feel privileged to not only be the recipient of that 1:1 story. But also I am extraordinarily privileged with the gift of sharing this story more widely.
By the end of this blog post, you will know why.
But first… I want to honor how my friend Tom has been there throughout my long life on this planet. How he has been an inspiration to me. I am a better person from knowing him.
I met Tom when I was a 14 year old freshman learning how to debate. My high school debate coach brought us to observe at Augustana University’s varsity tournament. Tom and his partner were debating against New Trier High School. Now, for the uninitiated, Chicago north shore debate is NEXT LEVEL intense. It still is to this day. You almost have to be psychic to understand what they’re saying because they talk so fast, and you better be confident and know your stuff.
And Tom was killing it against New Trier.
My novice 14 year old brain thought: “I want to be just. like. him.”
Later that year, I ended up competing at varsity state in debate against the same New Trier team Tom had at Augustana. It was very accidental that my novice self even ended up there. But by some miracle, we beat that New Trier team.
As I look over my life, I know that Tom has been there at all of the important inflection points of my life.
We never were on the same team together at the same time, but we became friends nonetheless. When I first started aimlessly working in Chicago, we ended up working in the same office complex. When I was living in Austin and pregnant with Claire, Tom connected with me on a visit. Throughout my journey with Mark’s stroke, Tom has been in my DM’s encouraging me.
The story you must know
Tom had a good friend, Jenny. Five years ago, she needed a double lung transplant. She was very sick and lost a lot of weight, and even though weakened by illness, she ferociously fought the medical bureaucracy. She worked her way up the priority list. By sheer determination, she convinced the medical establishment to make her eligible.
The call that it was time came unexpectedly. In a rush, the entire family pivoted, and Jenny got her new lungs. But she also got something else: a ticking clock. They expected that the new lungs would give her 5 more years of life.
And in year 4, it became apparent that she didn’t have much time left. The gift of her new lungs was wearing out.
Tom watched and supported, but knew there was little to be done. Quietly, he decided to do something meaningful in Jenny’s honor. To recognize her fight, grit, and determination, he decided to donate a kidney to someone who needed it.
It took 14 months to fight through medical bureaucracy, convincing doctors who assumed a defensive-medicine posture and were skeptical about a non-directive organ donation. No one said no. But no one was making it easy. As the fight against the medical establishment continued, Jenny continued to deteriorate.
But then it happened. Tom’s kidney ended up going to someone he may never know in California, someone who needed a kidney to survive.
And Tom was able to tell Jenny about the tiny scar on his gut that he will wear in her honor for the rest of his life. Though his kidney wasn’t something that could help her, his gift is something that lives on serving another human in Jenny’s honor.
Though Jenny was never able to physically see that tiny scar on Tom’s gut, she knew. And thus she died in March 2023 knowing how much he loved and honored her.
Tom’s donation ended up creating a chain that meant that 4 people got new kidneys.
It couldn’t save Jenny, but maybe it saves a part of all of us who know about it.
“You would have liked her. She was a great card player. She had a bitchy sense of humor and a big laugh. She rolled with it all. Like you do.”
Through writing this story this Saturday morning, I feel her. It might sound weird to you, but I feel like she was here telling me not to write this story for her. She wants to honor Tommy. “This story is about him, not me.”
Well, Jenny, I think it’s about both of you. Tommy wouldn’t have done this for just anyone. It’s about you both. You both inspired this.
And I hope I do it justice by bringing it to a wider audience.
It’s about us all
This story is much more than Jenny and Tom. It’s about that single pebble we drop that expands to affect everyone and everything. We’re all connected, and when we act with an intention, we create ripples in time and space and all that we are a part of.
Your intention changes all that is.
This story was about Tommy’s gift to Jenny. But it’s also about you. And me. And how the gifts we give from an intention of love provide an inspiration to anyone who is willing to let go and allow themselves to be affected by it.
I know you are.
This story didn’t cross your path by accident. This story is here to speak to you, like it spoke to me. Your stories deserve to be told. And your intentional acts of love deserve to be honored.
I feel like just knowing this story has changed me.
I can’t wait to see how it changes you, too.
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