Balm for a Healing Community

It is an everyday occurrence here at Transplant House of Cleveland- someone is on edge, unsure, fearful, confused, or displaying other emotions that comprise stress. Our guests would not be here if a loved one’s life were not at risk or in the balance, so their stress is comprehensible if we allow that, and it is expected. We empathize, when we can. We listen, always. We assist with the common things of life- carrying luggage, serving a meal, giving directions. And we learn.

Every day, we learn- about unusual medical conditions and nothing-short-of-miraculous treatments; about the brilliance, stamina, and devotion of hospital and organ procurement organization staff; about people’s lives- those in rural communities where the family farm is failing and leaving them with no livelihood, those who served in our military and are in organ failure because of it, those who have endured lifetimes of illness and are living long enough for medical science to come to their aid, those who were “normal people two weeks ago…and now this…”

We observe daily here, too. We take note of body language and word choice when new guests arrive, or when existing guests come in to tend to business or join a meal. We note tone, pace, and pauses in their sharing. It stirs us, deeply, to be recipients of this sharing. All of these things change over time, and stress responses are often reduced once our guests settle in on our campus. We begin to look into each other’s eyes. Invariably, we see beauty there. We see resilience, oh such resilience. Today, this morning, this moment, is a good day. Hope has not died, it is here, or noticeably nearby. We see truth there in their eyes- desire, willingness, readiness, and courage; amazing, draw-us-to-silence courage.

Last week, as a guest was departing for home, she said “Thank you. I like it here. I feel safe here. I feel…I actually feel loved here.” How humbling to hear this, as we note silently, that it is they who display love, too.

Maybe all we need is love.

I have long believed this House is special because of the presence of love. It is not the apartments themselves, though they are a key component of personal comfort. It is not the fairly-affordable rates, though that helps, too. I have believed in the healing power of community, as I witness the love of those who are here- staff, volunteers, and guests- one interconnected and ever-growing community. We are in this emotional and medical journey together. We are not walking it alone, we are not isolated, we are not without language, resources, supports, relationships. We don’t forget you after you’ve gone.

And yet suddenly, “community” in a physical sense is a dangerous idea, with the spread of COVID-19 around the world and here in Ohio. Large gatherings are banned, schools and museums are closed, visitors to hospitals and senior living facilities are limited. Even my church has cancelled worship and all activities for at least three weeks. Performing organ recovery and organ transplantation, already a very complex process involving over 120 people for every life saved, is in a heightened state of complexity and stress.

How do our Transplant House guests remain whole with this added burden of stress and fear and new learning for even those most brilliant and experienced among us? How do their medical care providers adequately watch over all of them, along with all the new demands within their hospitals? My goodness, the Vice President was here in our hospitals yesterday. How does an organization filled with human beings, who will have their own human responses to these unfamiliar circumstances, deal with the added stress of Secret Service agents, the pressure of proving the ability to deliver world-class and brilliant care, and doing all of this while individually running on empty- very little sleep, absolutely no self-care, inadequate meals, and stress…oh, the stress.

I offer that we all need a balm.

For some of us, that might literally be a beautifully-scented ointment that soothes skin and weary muscle.
• For others, that might be a time of deep, deep breathing in an otherwise perfectly silent space.
• For some, a lengthy walk or run in fresh air, bothered by no one.
• Maybe a perch, like a bird on a wire or even higher- on a spire; above the traffic of people and vehicles, up where our spirits and minds can gain perspective.
• For some, maybe that is a drive to the shore of Lake Erie, where we sit with city and confusion to our backs, and gaze into the expanse of water, letting our worries drift out across the surface, like skimming a stone that we won’t hold again.
• Some may have that special person, to whom they place a call for the soft assurance that is always there

At the end of choosing our escape, we will all, I imagine, choose to return to our “others,” and find and give love.

There is healing power within community. It is my prayer that we believe that, care for and about each other, even if by sending love through spiritual channels and other frequencies I can only imagine understanding.

May there be a healing balm for a healing community.

—Elaine Turley, Executive Director

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