I donated blood yesterday, which is always a bit of an epic adventure for me. Since I was a little kid, I have been terrified of needles. Irrationally so. Just the thought of that huge needle going into my skin makes me want to run screaming. I have managed to make myself donate blood a couple of times before, but I’ve always had a really powerful impetus. The first time I donated was for my eighteenth birthday; it was sort of my “I’m an adult now; I have to conquer all fear and give back to the community.” (Fifteen years later I’m still working on that “conquering all fear” thing. Ah, the goals of 18.) The second time was in honor of Sam Champion, a man I deeply respect who passed away from cancer at far too young an age, and I wanted to do something for him. These were visceral reasons that carried me through the fear.
But a while back… okay, years ago… I turned down a blood drive (I was in a genuine hurry) but promised somebody there (I don’t remember who; probably one of the volunteers that I’d never met before and haven’t seen since) that I would donate in the future.
Now personally, I’d like to live in a world where I can believe people, even strangers, when they tell me something. And while I can’t fix the world, I can at least make sure the tiny part I’m responsible for lives up to that ideal. So what was I thinking giving my word like that, knowing I’d have to fulfill it and get stabbed in the arm with a blood-sucking needle? Sometimes my mouth runs faster than my brain.
I hadn’t said a date by which I would complete my bloody transaction, so technically my insane delay in fulfilling wasn’t exactly breaking my word. But in the back of my mind, my promise blowing in the wind like that hung over me like a little cloud. A cloud that had gotten even darker and uglier since I’d been practicing heathenry. Troth, the ability to keep our word unbroken, is one of the most holy principles of heathens – in fact, the “trú” in Ásatrú means “troth” or “faith” (as in “keeping faith”) and one of the things heathens call themselves is “True Folk”: those true to their word. Add to that my reason for not fulfilling my promise was that I’m afraid of needles and…. ugh. I imagine it comes as no surprise that one of the other primary viking virtues is courage. “Oath-breaking coward” is pretty much the worst insult you can give a heathen.
Which meant, in this particular anyway…. I sucked.
So this brings us to yesterday. I’m driving home from a critique session with my writing group, and I pass by a blood donation center (I live practically within walking distance of it – I’m telling you, I have no excuse for waiting this long). And I just decide… today. Today I make this right. I stop by the grocery store and pick up some non-corn syrupy snacks (it’s really sweet that they give you snacks, but I don’t eat any of the things they typically provide), and I park at the blood donation center as I try to remember the exact phrasing of one of my favorite quotes on courage:
Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.
~Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, US Ace Fighter Pilot in WWI
I remind myself that I shouldn’t be embarrassed that I’m terrified. I should be proud – because I’m terrified and I’m here anyway. And I go in, hoping beyond hope that since I managed to get my butt through the door I won’t be rejected on some anomaly (or worse by that stupid finger prick test; if I’m going to get a needle in my finger, I’d better get a needle in my arm, too and have the whole thing done with). After testifying I haven’t had sex with a gay junkie in England during Mad Cow disease (seriously… the questions they ask…) and passing the finger prick test (yay!), I wind up in a chair with my feet propped up, my arm out, and a really nice lady rubbing iodine all over a thick vein in the crook of my elbow. Right about now it sinks in that I’m about to have a gigantic needle shoved into me.
Faith got me into this stupid chair, and so I call on faith to keep me in it. I remind myself that I am descended from vikings and valkyries – I can handle a blood donation. I pop in my headphones and turn on Britney’s latest single (yes, I can call on valkyries while listening to Britney Spears; that’s how I roll). On command I squeeze the blood red stress ball in my hand and then watch as the needle goes into my arm.
I know people say to look away, but watching is easier for me. My imagination can’t run away as wildly when I’m concentrating on the reality in front of my eyes. And the reality here is just not that bad.
My blood is warm and deep crimson as it flows down my arm, over my wrist, and falls out of sight. But instead of spilled and running on a battlefield, it is funneled through tubes, into an endless procession of bags (only one of which will actually be filled), and collects to be given to someone who needs it. Nobody dies and maybe somebody lives (or at least becomes more healthy) because, like my ancestors, I can be brave.
Is it silly to be that epic over something so mundane? Maybe it is. Should I have to call on deep wells of faith to do something so simple as donate blood? Maybe not. But all of us have those times when we need to be our mythic selves to get through the next few moments with integrity, and I am thankful that I have such a colorful and strong tradition to rely on when I need it. Faith helps me be a better me, one day, one simple task at a time.
Any stories for us about when you used faith (whatever that faith may be) for something mundane?