November 7, 2018, just three weeks ago. It was College Country Night at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, when a gunman killed 12 patrons and himself. The Borderline Bar & Grill is in easy driving distance of the UCLA Transplant Center, and this shooting felt close to home.
The killings in Thousand Oaks are among the 13,000 gun-related deaths recorded as of November 21 of this year (excluding suicides) by the Gun Violence Archive. It starts to feel hopeless, hearing about the number of people killed each year by the hand of another. There is a brutal kind of math working here. The number of shootings starts to look like an indictment of society, the worst of humanity getting the upper hand.
When I heard of the Thousand Oaks shootings, I reached for my broader lens, a lens honed by what I do working in kidney transplantation. While some choose to harm others, I know that others make choices to express their power for good.
Most of us have two healthy kidneys and the ability to save a life by donating one of them. In contrast to the shooting, this same year, Charlie Ball quietly traveled from California to Washington, DC, to donate a kidney to a former classmate, Kenneth Walker, after Walker reached out for assistance to his former classmates through email.
Thanks to his newly donated kidney, Kenneth will now live years longer, thanks to someone who sat beside him in a class long ago. This Thanksgiving, he has more energy, the freedom to travel to see the world, and will enjoy his holiday eating foods that he couldn’t have eaten just last year. Thanks to a good man named Charlie.
Donating a kidney and saving someone’s life won’t bring back the victims killed in Thousand Oaks. Every time there is a shooting, we are all, on some level, hurt. But, this Thanksgiving, remember the other half of it, too. We are the best and the worst of humanity, often living side by side in small cities like Thousand Oaks, on both coasts, and everywhere in between.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
And, one person’s giving of a kidney can restore a level of humanity to a community that has been attacked. It can fight violence – and human malevolence – with the power of compassion. This is also who we are, and that is something to give thanks for. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! — Amy Waterman PhD