My mother’s float, representing Donate Life, an organization devoted to educating and promoting organ and tissue donation, won the Queen’s Award on New Year’s Day. In the Rose Bowl Parade, the Queen’s Award is one of the most prestigious, bestowed upon the float with the best use of roses. For Donate Life, it was undoubtedly earned for the float’s significance and emotional back stories.
During just the judging, when only parade participants and their families are present, judges, float riders, and nearby volunteers were tearing up. The float riders selected for this year’s float are all survivors of successful donation transplants, living organ donors, or family members of organ donors since deceased. All of them came together from across the United States to be Donate Life’s “Stars of Life.” (The Rose Parade’s theme this year was “Hats Off to Entertainment.”) It sounds cheesy, but was entirely appropriate, that as the float rolled on, Faith Hill’s “There You’ll Be” played:
There will always be
A place for you
For all my life
I’ll keep a part of you with me
And everywhere I go
There you’ll be.
The song itself tugs at your heartstrings, but seeing the “floragraphs” of donors past, seeing a wave of tributary roses, seeing living examples of donation gone right and donation done selflessly – that’s what drew tears the most. It was an emotional experience.
Twin and I had learned of the float riders’ stories before the judging. Each of them is extraordinary, and worth the read. Each one is an example of human life giving onward. The acts of donation are not so much sacrifices as they are just simple acts of giving. Just imagine being at the point where your father, brother, husband, or son, on life support, has come to his end. He has checked the “Donor” box on his DMV registration, but now it comes to you, the family, and whether or not you see the passing on of his living organs as appropriate. You say yes. And you save a 17-year old from Brea, California, who was hoping more for a kidney transplant than for high school graduation.
I met a number of amazing people this week, but one introduction left my heart melting.
A bit tired and drained from standing around in the sun on judging day, I was begrudgingly playing the role of my mother’s camera mule. With her backpack on my back and my purse on my shoulder, I had two cameras hanging off of my forearm as she played diva donor. I had to take dozens of photos of her that she could take back to her organizations back home, when what I really wanted to do was see the Sesame Street float and the skateboarding dog up close.
One young man, probably in his 30s, emanating amazing amounts of positive energy, approached me as I catered to my mom’s demands for different angles and specific lighting and full-body shots and snapshot digicam magic.
“Is this your mother?” he asked.
“It is,” I said. I briefly pondered my use of the word “it.” Oops.
We chatted for a short bit as my mom started striking tai chi poses. Everyone loves attention, and this week was her week, with one scheduled break for Twin’s and my birthday dinner that night. His wife came by, drawn in by my mother’s tai chi eccentricities, and we talked about the marvel of her being able to do these things at this age and her pinnacle health and all the typical small talk things I had heard myself repeating over the last couple of days.
The man, Eric, then asked me, “And what’s your name?”
“Mayka.” I said.
He and his wife jumped back a little bit.
“I’m sorry, what? You said your name is ‘Mayka?'” Their eyes were both wide and their emotions betrayed them as little shakes tremored through their necks.
“Yup,” I said, nodding casually. I’m used to people saying “Oh, like the [Apostle? Disciple?] in The Bible.” or “I know a boy named Micah, but I’ve never met a girl Mayka.”
“How do you spell it?” They asked cautiously. They were obviously emotionally attached to this name, and I felt myself softening though I wasn’t sure why.
“M-A-Y-K-A,” I said. Gesturing my thumb to my mom, I followed up with “She made it up.”
“Oh!” Eric said. “That’s so beautiful!” I’ve heard this response, too, but it still wasn’t clear to me why these two were so emotionally invested in my name.
Then the wife, pulling up a large button with an adorable toddler’s face on it, said, “This is our Micah.” At the same time, Eric had drawn his hand around the button as well, saying, “Our son’s name is Micah.”
And I couldn’t help but look at this little boy’s face. And know that this child was the one who was hit by a car while on a walk with his dad. And that a physical part of him (his heart valves, specifically) lived on in a baby boy from New Mexico. I had read this story. And here was Micah’s donor parents.
We were only just meeting. And were not related to each other in any traditional ways. But just seeing their reaction to a diametrically different girl “Micah” made me feel like I was tied to this boy’s namesake.
…Just look at that face! If someone’s parents came up to you and suddenly projected this emotional connection to you based simply on your name – I think you’d feel a little floored, too. Please excuse me as I pull at your heartstrings some more, from Eric’s Donate Life bio:
Eric, now 31, remembers holding Micah in the hours after his birth, asking himself, “What will he be like? Who will he marry?”
The Millers will never see their Micah at my age.
I can only imagine what it must be like to stumble upon a girl who shares a rare name with your son. Now that I’ve met them, I feel like I have to live up to the legacy of a four-year old.
Micah Miller will forever be my first association of life supporting life.