Originally printed in the Lexington Herald-Leader (Kentucky). Excerpted with permission of the author.
It's 1 a.m. I'm kneeling in the stillness of a small chapel to pray. I do this every week. Parishioners at my Catholic church, St.Luke, pray in shifts in this Eucharistic Adoration Chapel 24 hours a day, seven days a week, breaking only for part of Holy Week.
My shift is 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. every Friday, a time when the world outside my church is silent.
Often, the time is deeply spiritual. But sometimes, in the silence, as I hear my prayers go out, I know that my mind is wandering. Atthose times, the whole thing feels routine.I begin with a few short prayers.
Then I read the bulletin board filled with "sticky notes" that request specific prayers. Somebody has a relative who has beendiagnosed with cancer. Someone else is having marital problems and needs help with rent money.
Then I pray the rosary.
The silence is ideal for reflection. And on this night, last September, I had something to contemplate. This night was anything butroutine.
For the first time ever, I added my own sticky note to the prayer board.
"Please pray that the recent blood test I took comes back positive so that I can donate my kidney to my friend Charlie."
Charlie Tremont is 47. He was diagnosed with kidney disease more than half a lifetime ago.
When I offered my prayer, Charlie had been on dialysis for 23 years. Three-and-a-half hours for each session, three times a week. Inall, I figure, he had spent 11,200 hours tied to the machine that cleaned his blood.
But his time was running out. Without a new kidney, Charlie's quality of life--already deteriorating--would continue to slip. Death would follow.
Charlie had questions about his future, but doctors found it increasingly difficult to come up with answers because so few peoplehad been on dialysis for so long.
"I decided I could write the final chapter of the book here and that could be the one that they keep referring to," he told me, "orI could get out of this business of dialysis and pursue a treatment with transplantation."
So in 1997, Charlie went on a waiting list for a cadaver kidney.
Charlie and I became friends by marriage. We both met our wives during college days innortheastern Ohio. Charlie met Karen at Baldwin-Wallace College. I met Margie at the University of Akron.
I don't recall exactly when Margie told me Charlie had begun a quest for a transplant. I think my initial reaction was limited to a"Wow!"
Karen had told us that her family was praying about the matter. They were seeking the intercession of Padre Pio, the Italian monkwho seems destined for sainthood. Pio, who died in 1968, was a stigmatist, one who bears the wounds of Christ. Catholics ofteninvoke his name in prayers seeking miraculous cures.
One night--it was 1998, I think--Margie hung up the phone after another update from Karen. No luck on a kidney yet.
And then I said something. I didn't think about it. I still don't fully know why I said it.
I said it matter-of-factly. Even quietly. I said, "I could donate a kidney to Charlie."
And my wife looked at me as if I were nuts.
More phone updates, "I could donates," and wild looks followed over the months. But Margie's puzzled glances began to show a littleless disbelief. She agreed to ask Karen what I needed to do to be tested.
"Well, first he has to have O-positive blood," Karen said.
End of story, Margie thought.
"O-positive," I said the next day, when I pulled out my blood-type card.
More phone calls.
A lab kit was shipped from Cleveland. Twelve test-tube-size vials of my blood were drawn, then air-expressed toCleveland.
Days passed. A week. Two weeks. Three.
That's when I posted my prayer request on the chapel bulletin board.
If you had asked me a year ago whether the prayers of an ordinary man like me are answered, I probably would have told you yes. Butthere was always a small part of me looking for tangible proof.
Today, I will tell you yes. Definitely.
At 2 a.m., my prayer shift was over, and I went home to bed. Shortly after 9 a.m. that morning, a nurse from Cleveland was on thephone.
"Exactly how are you related to Charlie?" she asked.
The blood test matched well enough that we might have been brothers.
In the days after learning I might be "the match," my nerves were a bit frayed. I felt a strange mixture of anticipation and fearabout the thought of giving up a body part.
I headed to church. But this time, I went during the middle of the week, seeking help at St. Peter's in Lexington.
And I swear Rev. Dan Noll's reading of the gospel that day was meant for me.
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul," Jesus tells his apostles in Matthew 10:28. "Rather, beafraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna."