They give you free juice and cookies. There’s a choice of apple, orange, or cranberry-apple. There’s a choice of Lorna Doones, Fig Newtons, or Oreos. Peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies--bakery-style--are in a large Tupperware. You can choose multiple varieties of tea and coffee with flavorings from a little machine that makes it one cup at a time. The people around are all smiles and warm hellos. All this in exchange for 500 mL of blood.
After donating blood only occasionally for a number of years, I decided last fall to make it more regular. Life as we knew it seemed to be falling apart according to the evening news, economically speaking first and foremost, but you know how that trickle-down-and-around effect works. I decided that not ignoring the blood bank next time it called but to instead pick up the phone and schedule an appointment and do it again 56 days later was a positive act of citizenry. I couldn’t save Goldman Sachs, but I maybe could help save a child. I’ve tried to donate regularly since then but unintentionally skipped one or two intervals. I was there again last week.
I find myself collecting--maybe latching on to--images of hospitality. Maybe that’s because I was raised by a mother who made hospitality---not in an entertainment sense, but the welcoming sense--an art form. The basis of the television show Cheers stands out as an image of hospitality. Flaws and all, the bar’s patrons have a place and “everyone knows your name.” The blood bank is another image of hospitality. I was 40 years old when I gave blood for the first time. I had worked in hospital labs for years where blood--not donated in bags but drawn into test tubes--was our stock and trade, and I had a growing sense of guilt over not contributing my own to this system of caring for the sick that employed me. I confessed this to the phlebotomist at that first donation. “I’m feeling guilty because I’m 40 years old and this is the first time I’ve ever given blood,” I said. She smiled, touched my arm, and said, “All that matters is that you’re here now.”