On Monday 30th July, at Warwick Senior High School the Donate Life, Writing for Life 2018 competition was launched.
High school students around the state have been invited to “step into the minds” of someone affected by organ donation.
As a participating judge, and lung recipient, I asked to be part of the launch.
The full text of my speech follows:
Where did storytelling start? Historians have many theories, but most agree that storytelling has been part of human culture longer than the written word. Today, stories are an intrinsic part of human life. Books, movies, TV, music, how our news is reported, religion and of course our art, because the phrase a picture paints a thousand words is not meaningless. Stories are everywhere.
So why do stories play such an important part of society and culture today?
We use stories to understand and make sense of our world. Stories pass on wisdom to the next generation, they share and impart values, they teach us and allow us to walk in another’s footsteps. Stories do this more effectively than facts, because they engage our emotions as well as entertaining us.
Storytelling has a natural ebb and flow. The stories we read are akin to breathing in, and the stories we write are exhaled. As a writer, you need to step inside someone else’s shoes and examine their truths to find your story.
What better truth to explore via storytelling than organ donation? The United Network for Organ Sharing say that,
“Without the organ donor, there is no story, no hope, no transplant. But when there is an organ donor life springs from death, sorrow turns to hope and a terrible loss becomes a gift.”
To me, organ donation is a family, who on a dark day and in the midst of their own grief, say yes and consent to saving the lives of others. It is medical teams who work together to pull off miracles, to give someone without hope the opportunity to have a future. All to save the life of a stranger.
I say this to you, with borrowed breath, from borrowed lungs because seven years ago it was my life that was saved.
Seven years ago, I had three weeks left to live. I was in respiratory failure, my body succumbing to the war it had fought against Cystic Fibrosis. I was housebound, on oxygen, and I was dying. Despite this, I clung to life by my fingernails because I had hope. Hope that a family would say yes. Hope that this was not where my story was going to end.
To both the family that said yes and to the medical personnel that worked in the surgical theatre, I was a stranger. They didn’t know that I wanted to see my fifteen-year-old son grow up, that I wanted to hold a printed copy of my first book in my hands. They didn’t know that I hadn’t yet been to London, or Rome or that I wanted to see Loch Ness. They didn’t know that I had more books left to write, or that I hadn’t yet married the love of my life. But still, they saved my life.
Organ donation showcases the best of humanity, it is a gift that should be celebrated, and I can’t think of a better way to do so than in a story.
For the second year, I am honoured to be a judge for this important writing competition, to those of you who plan to enter, my advice is that the best storytelling touches the emotional heart of the subject. I wish you all good luck on your writing journeys and look forward to reading your entries.
You can find out more about the program on Donate Life’s website.