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I Am

September 18, 2012 at 10:30 am
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By Lauren Ward Larsen, grateful multi-gallon blood recipient and the author of Zuzu’s Petals: A True Story of Second Chances

I woke up one Tuesday and knew it was going to be a crappy day. I asked my daughter to get herself ready for school and wake me when it was time for me to drive her there. I e-mailed my personal trainer and cancelled my first appointment to launch a workout routine. Even showering felt like too much effort.

I dragged myself through the day with a general sense of exhaustion, but I hesitated when I was about to cancel my evening plans to attend an advance screening of a new documentary with a friend. I had already cancelled attending her birthday party the week before, so I decided to pull myself together and fake my way through our date. And boy, am I glad I did.

“I Am” is the latest film project of director Tom Shadyac, whose credits include directing Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, and Liar Liar. Being a big fan of the “stupid humor” genre of movies, I was curious about the more serious, thought-provoking side of Tom. After a cycling accident left him struggling with both physical and emotional recovery, Tom began to question the value of the many outer trappings of his Hollywood success: the homes, the private jets, all that pricey “stuff.” Was it really what made him happy? Or was he, as he suspected, part of the cancer that infected society?

Tom rid himself of most of his possessions – including his 17,000 sq. ft. Beverly Hills mansion – and moved into a simple neighborhood comprised mostly of trailer homes. Riding his bike to work each day, he launched his latest (and self-funded) project. Setting out with a small film crew, Tom asked an array of significant thinkers two questions: What’s wrong with the world? And what can be done to make things better?

Instead of receiving confirmation about the competitive “dog-eat-dog” nature of life, Tom discovered what was right with it: that we’re genetically predisposed to connect with one another, to feel and display empathy, to cooperate, to be our brother’s keeper. As one scientist he interviewed put it, we are “hard-wired to respond” with compassion when we see someone in need. Another said, “What we do at the individual level really does impact at the global level.”

I couldn’t help but think about blood and organ donors, most of whom have no personal ties to the people whose lives they’re saving. Just like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, the blood donor rolls up her sleeve and sends a profound ripple effect into the lives of the patient and his loved ones. Who’s to say what good blood and organ recipients will create in the world once given that second chance? As Tom concludes, love is a force. And being a blood or organ donor is one of the most profound displays of love possible.

Following the movie screening was a question-and-answer session with Tom, during which his irreverence, joy, empathy, and pure humanity poured forth. I didn’t want to put Tom on the spot with my question, so I waited until most of the auditorium had cleared out to approach him, though I already sensed the answer to my question. Not only are he and his movie promoter, Harold, regular blood donors, but Harold also donated a kidney to a complete stranger – an Ethiopian immigrant with whom he continues to stay in touch. Why am I not surprised?

I left the event feeling reconnected to people and reinvigorated about the work I do. Tuesday – as it turned out – was anything but crappy.

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