Transport showed up to the room, I loaded my month and a half in the hospital up and off we went. This was the first time that I was leaving the transplant unit without some kind of procedure or test being my destination. As I was wheeled down the hall, saying goodbye to the nurses, I realized that I was going home. The emotion was so overwhelming and I was happy to be wearing a mask so that I could hide behind it. I mentally crawled up behind that mask as we entered the elevator, went down to the first floor and out the main entrance to wait for Michelle to bring the car around from the parking garage. There was a part of me that wanted to get out of there quickly before someone changed their mind. Ten days ago I had a heart transplant and now I was sitting outside waiting to go home. It was like a dream.
Speaking of outside, this was the first time I had breathed outside air or felt the heat and humidity of Florida in the summer in a month and a half. I sat there, still hiding behind my mask, just soaking it all in. You know that feeling when you get into a car that has been parked in the sunlight? The feeling of the oppressive heat before the air conditioner can cool the space? I love that feeling and that is how the outside felt on this Friday in June. I watched as people came and went, living their lives, dealing with their worries, keeping their appointments without any knowledge of me and my situation. In that moment I started to transition from a heart transplant patient to just a normal guy, hiding behind a mask.
When Michelle arrived with the car I climbed into the back seat because I wasn’t allowed to sit in the front for six weeks. I couldn’t risk an airbag breaking my sternum again. As we pulled away I was able to take off my mask and I was then just another person in another car driving down another road heading to another destination. It felt so good to be a part of normal life again.
As we drove I was able to sight see and I started to notice other people on the sidewalks and in other cars going about their normal lives. I was struck by what seemed to me to be so many unhappy people. So many people on the street, and in their cars and many of them looked simply miserable. People on sidewalks and in cars might have always looked like this, I just never noticed because I wasn’t looking. Yet, on this day it struck me because I was so happy to be out of the hospital, so happy to be doing so well ten days after having a heart transplant. I couldn’t stop smiling and all I wanted to do was take in and enjoy everything. I wanted to feel the breeze through the window on my face. I wanted to notice the white puffy clouds of the summer sky. I wanted to squeeze all I could out of this car ride from Tampa to Venice. It was at that moment that I felt something, I felt sadness. I wasn’t sad for me, I was sad for, what appeared to be, so many people who weren’t enjoying this moment in the same way.
I then, quietly in my thoughts, called out to God and asked why it seemed that so many people were unhappy. God then led me to ask a deeper, way more profound question: Was that me before my heart transplant? It was in the asking of this question that God revealed to me something that I could have expressed with my mouth a month and a half before, but now I was seeing with my own eyes. My life experience had changed me or should I say God used this change in my life to adjust my attitude and my perspective. I know that without the gift of my new heart, my life would not have lasted very much longer. My heart was very sick and it was only a matter of time until it would have given up the ghost and stopped working all together. Now, I was driving home with a new life, a new beginning and a new opportunity to live. In comparison, all of the other things that I could think of that caused me to be stressed, all the other things in my life that caused me to appear unhappy when I was driving down the road or walking along the sidewalk just faded away. It was in that moment that I felt profound sorrow.
I was reminded of Jesus on the cross in Luke 23:34 when he says “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” How much of my life was lived not knowing what I was doing? I confess that it was a great deal. I have allowed myself to get so worked up over things that just didn’t deserve that much attention. I got lost in the busyness of life and disregarded the beauty and wonder that was all around me. I remember times when I turned down invitations to go watch a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico simply because I was “too busy”. And other times when Michelle I made the choice to stay at home as opposed to meeting friends out for dinner because we were too tired from our busy days. I remembered times when I didn’t drive down Casey Key to look at the beautiful scenery on my way home from Sarasota because it would take too long. I bet that if I could go back and see myself in those times I would have looked just like all of these people I was seeing out the back window of my car.
I know that I won’t be perfect in this area all the time. That is the blessing of the grace of God in my life. But, one thing I promised to myself and to God, on this ride home from the hospital, is that I was no longer going to sweat the small stuff. That no longer was I going to miss the beauty all around me. That no longer would I allow myself to be too busy to enjoy the everyday blessings of a sunset or dinner with friends or holding hands with those I love or riding in a car or singing along with a favorite song on the radio or…You get the point.