A friend asked for prayer for an extended family member who was about to undergo a lung transplant. While such things now happen with some frequency, and even a measure of predictability, they are nonetheless mind-boggling.
It is nearly impossible to comprehend the entire picture and the complexity of all the elements converging — from the death of one that yields life to another, to the messy array of grief and joy, the magnitude of the gift and the phenomenal skills of the medical team.
Contemplating the marvels and dimensions of a lung transplant, I remembered a paper I wrote for a biology class in college, which is about the only thing I remember from college biology.
The paper was about the first breath a baby draws upon birth. We talk about the miracle of birth, yet often overlook the miracle of breath.
The first breath a baby takes within seconds of birth may be the most difficult breath of a child’s entire life. A baby’s lungs are filled with fluid during pregnancy and upon delivery the lungs must fill with air.
Millions of alveoli, microscopic air sacs in the lungs, must inflate for the first time. Like the ignition of a jet engine that readies an aircraft for flight, that first breath ignites the entire cardio-pulmonary system. Inhale, exhale, buckle up and prepare for takeoff.
The lung-transplant surgery went well for the woman. She shows no signs of rejection and is on the long road to recovery. Mornings begin with a cocktail of several dozen pills for breakfast. Oh, the many wonders we take for granted — the very act and gift of drawing breath.
The woman with the new lungs described her delight upon being wheeled into a garden adjoining the hospital a few days after surgery and seeing the first signs of spring. It is easy to picture a woman with new life enjoying the new life of creation.
It is no coincidence that Easter nestles in the cradle of spring. The remains of winter, all that has died and decayed, sleeping beneath soil, layers of thatch and crusts of bark, stretches, yawns big and awakens, signaling the long-awaited arrival of new life and new breath.
For Christians around the world, Holy Week culminates in the celebration of new life. Just like an organ transplant, the death of one has given life to others. Those who recognize that the life systems of their hearts and souls were on the critical care list celebrate Christ as the one who sacrificed to give new life and new breath.
Tiny grape hyacinth sway in the wind. Pink blooms on the crab apple sprinkle the sidewalk like flower petals lining the way for a bride about to walk down the aisle. The promise of life and newness permeates the air.
On Easter morning, Christians in sprawling suburban churches, inner-city buildings with leaky ceilings and hard wooden pews, as well as those around the world whose houses of worship have been bombed and are littered with rubble, will again breathe deep and hold tight to the promise of transplant — despair in exchange for hope, grief in exchange for joy, death in exchange for life.