A few days ago I had a blood transfusion. This was the second one I've had since starting on my current chemo regime. My haemoglobin and platelet levels had both sunk very low, leaving me even more exhausted as well as breathless, and jeopardising my chances of having more chemo, at least until the levels had risen. As I sat in the Big White Chair receiving two units of the red stuff, I felt very grateful to the person or people who had donated it and very relieved that I used to be a blood donor. I had paid it forward and, as Fate would have it, was now receiving back.
I had become a blood donor after one of my very closest friends from university was very ill with heart problems, around 13 years ago. She was born with a congenital heart defect and had had a number of surgeries throughout her life, before having a life threatening episode one sunny day in 2002. As she recovered, I looked for a way to make a small difference, to say thank you to the Man Upstairs, and becoming a blood donor seemed an obvious choice. I never imagined that just a few years later I would be receiving, rather than giving.
The idea of paying it forward seems quite important. I guess it's a form of karma or "do as you would be done by". In other words - if you want the world to treat you well, you need to treat the world well first. That makes it sound ultimately selfish, but then it's been said that altruism is simply a form of egotism. Please don't get the wrong idea, though - I don't want you to think I do nice things just to make sure I get nice things back! I guess I see it as part of being a family member or a friend, which is a reciprocal relationship so it's not unreasonable to expect similar behaviour in return.
I think there's also a question as to how widely that good treatment should extend. I'm not for one instance advocating that we should be good to those we know and everyone else can go to hell. But I'm interested in the concept of the social contract - how much do we owe to society in general, and how much can we take from society? I suppose it's the General Election which has prompted these thoughts. It is very easy to dismiss the Tories as being very much for the rich and the Labour Party for the working man/woman; and to extend this to say the former expect people to look after themselves whilst the latter expect the State to look after people. I think that's a bit too simplistic. But I do worry that my vote must count - not just for me but for the rest of society. Just because I can pay for private healthcare doesn't mean that I don't care about the NHS; ditto education - if not for myself, for others. The question then is - how far am I prepared to go for others? If I have to pay shed loads of tax for the care or education of others, am I willing to do this? And how will this influence my vote?
It's certainly not an easy question to answer. But I come back to this - be nice and you'll be treated nicely. This week I received a very lovely letter from the mum of a university friend (hello Sue!). I was one of a large number of people who supported this friend during her own fight with cancer some 12 or so years ago. We were devastated when she finally succumbed. Now her mum is supporting me and I am so very grateful. I can't imagine how hard it is for Sue to read some of this blog but she has done so and has been so kind in thinking of me. And another friend, who read in this blog of my upset at smashing my Super Mum mug, and who I have helped in the past to deal with a very traumatic event in their past, has helped me to deal with my own trauma by sending me a beautiful new Superwoman mug. I certainly didn't support either of my friends with a view to getting that support reciprocated down the line. But I am so grateful now for that reciprocity.
So here's the lesson - pay it forward. It needn't take time or money. And you may be very grateful down the line when you, in turn, need support. I am trying to live this philosophy, even in the smallest of ways. I try not to pass a charity box without making a small donation. If someone asks for my vote in some random competition, I try to vote for them. And as for the General Election - well, we shall see.