The gift of new life

Mrs Hazel Boltman, Gibson Head of House   

As another year draws to a close and we look forward to the holidays and festivities, it is an ideal time to look back on the year and reflect on our experiences. This year has been one of a number of firsts for me: my first look at our new Year 7 students, eager to begin their journey at Grammar in 2015; my first experience as a grandmother; and my first time attending the National Transplant Games.

Each experience has helped shape me in new and unfamiliar ways and has provided an opportunity to take a fresh look at people who are all beginning a new life. Each experience has also had its own particular flavour, and each has had its highs and lows; but they have all taught me to look at life differently, with renewed hope and a grateful heart. I would like to share some of my experiences this year and some of the important lessons in gratitude, perseverance and a positive approach to life, as they apply to us all at this busy time of year.

In September this year I attended the National Transplant Games in Melbourne. These are biannual sporting events where participants are organ and tissue transplant recipients. The opportunity came about through a new family friendship with Tom (not his real name). Twenty years ago, at the age of thirty, Tom was informed that his only chance in life was to have a kidney transplant. Luckily for Tom, after waiting a mere twenty-three months he received this gift of life. He now lives life to the fullest, and every two years, attends the Transplant Games, both nationally and internationally. This year I was blessed with an invitation to attend the games with him and his family.

While I was there, I took the time to talk to various attendees, and I found my life enriched by their stories. What really struck me was their joy for life, their unfailingly positive attitude, and the incredible gratitude each one had for their donor, their donor families and their own families and friends. A few stood out in particular, for various reasons.

I met John, a grandfather in his eighties, who became ill and received a transplant thirty years ago. He made a full recovery, and has lived the last thirty years enthusiastically. He has had the joy and privilege of seeing his children married, and has got to know his eleven grandchildren. This octogenarian still competes in the track and field events annually, as well as in bowls and swimming. His outlook on life, his attitudes to health and the daily counting of his blessings have been paramount to his success. What was a bleak situation has become a life-affirming event thanks to the kindness of others and his attitude to life. What struck me too, was just how much his grandchildren have gained by having him in their lives for all those years.

While each person had their own stories, those told by the children were some of the most poignant. Now aged ten, Jaime is healthy with a new liver; Beth with a new kidney; and so many more. These children were competing in several events with such determination and grit. I had to really look at myself and think of the number of times I have taken the easy way out. I had to marvel at their spirit and positive outlooks. These children, as well as their siblings there to support them, pushed themselves to the limit each day, showing what true winning really looks like.

Behind each of these stories, was of course, a sad back-story — the people who had lost their lives. There were many donor families present, but their sadness was offset by the thankfulness of the recipients. Each donor and their families were honoured, with tributes and ceremonies. The families had lost young children, teenagers, parents and partners, but from each death came such a gift of life.

A theme running throughout the games was ‘discover, decide, discuss’, aimed at encouraging members of the public to find out about organ and tissue donation, decide whether they would be prepared to do it, and to discuss their decision with their families. While this initially seemed maudlin, it did prompt me to reconsider my own decisions and to look at my life, and the life of others, differently.

These reflections on the Transplant Games are part of my journey of self-discovery. They have, along with many other experiences, shaped my life this year. Adding these experiences, to the new experience of preparing to welcome a whole cohort of new, Year 7 girls to our School, and seeing their excitement, anticipation, and in some cases trepidation, has certainly enriched my year. I have met both the year 7 and 8 girls from Gibson House, and have spoken to them about the importance of embracing new experiences. We will also spend a considerable amount of time next year encouraging them to reflect on their own experiences and their learning; taking the time to reflect and grow.

Of course, the joy of becoming a grandparent and watching this new precious life experience the world around him, and being involved in his journey, has been the pinnacle of my year. What he has taught me is the value of perseverance. Watching him try to sit, stand and eventually walk, yet fall again and again; I can only marvel at his perseverance. The tears are short lived as his desire to learn takes over. We can learn so much from this.

As we come to the end of another busy and productive year, it is fitting to reflect on all that has occurred — to look at the good moments and to be grateful for them, and to look at those moments that were not our finest, and to learn from them.  Most importantly, it is a time to look into ourselves and begin to reimagine a new year, where we take every opportunity offered and live our lives to their full potential. Let’s all practise gratefulness, perseverance and joyful anticipation this holiday. I look forward to beginning a new year with you all in 2015, where together, we will start out on a new journey.