My brother needs a kidney, what do I owe him?

I come from a long line of people with fatal kidney disease. The year my father died of the disease, I dreamed of him only once. Dreaming of a dead person is a powerful sensation. Even in the dream, I knew he was not really with me, that his form was a hollow shell of what it had once been. He lay on his back fully dressed in his pin-stripped black business suit, a tie and his wing tipped business shoes showing under his cuffs, his hands folded over his gut which was distended in my dream as it had been in life, from years of kidney enlargement. My father was a skinny man, but, thanks to his kidneys, his belly had hung ever since I could remember over the top of his shorts.

My Aunt Eleanor, wife of Uncle Harold, the gynecologist who had brought me into the world, appeared before me saying, "He's in Nebula now." I understood this meant Daddy now hung suspended in time and space, probably awaiting rebirth, probably waiting for me to give birth.

They had all returned from Nebula that night to dance in my dream, all those ancestors whose kidneys had failed them, dancing now in a realm of stars and infinite night where internal organs carried no weight.

Whether my father remained in Nebula or slid back into incarnation and circumvented even my awareness that a life as his daughter had honed into particular awareness of him, he was there that night dancing with the rest. I remembered my father's words one day when I showed him the Astanga yoga series I had recently mastered in Hawaii: 'You're going to make us all proud one day."

By "us all" he referred to the ancestors, living and dead, the ones I now saw dancing. By "one day", he could have meant anything.

My father was a family man to the core. His soul existed as an extension of his mother and father and grandparents and so on. He lived to make other people proud. He thrived on attention. Being the center of attention in a room full of relatives who thought he was the best was the peak of happiness to him.

His psychic umbilical chord had never been cut from the personalities that preceded him. It spanned nations and centuries, cities and states: Poland, Russia, Atlanta, Chattanooga, who knew what came before? Jewish family history is an untraceable thing, if you try to go back too far you simply get lost.

Maybe they had been Moraines living in Spain, or members of the lost tribes. Wherever they had lived, whatever hardships they endured, whatever language they spoke, they hadn't been much different than my father, according to his view.

They had striven for status and financial success. If there were artists at all on that side of the family, I hadn't heard of them, although I was well aware of a host of male merchants, vendors and traveling salesmen and, on the female side, mothers and wives. My father looked to me and my brother to continue this line.


2-Into Our Thirties
My brother has inherited the kidney disease. Someday I will be asked to give him a kidney. The question has already been written in time and space although it has never been asked. Perhaps it was written generations before.

But the answer is a blank. Will I do it? Won’t I? The question arises in my consciousness from time to time like a Zen koan and I watch it pass across the sky of my mind like a wind blown cloud, glad to see it goes and wondering where it will eventually take me.

Although my brother and I never speak about it, the unstated question resounds through both our lives, through our many visits, emails and years. I wait to speak about it and decide in a future we both expect to happen yet hope, miraculously, won’t. I hold the decision at the greatest distance possible until then.

Why not? The now is so miraculous, so luxuriant in its presence. My brother and I are both in our primes. We are living without that suffering our father endured and that we endured watching him. But we are living between a parentheses, which is enclosed by the family disease. Although I didn’t inherit the gene for the disease, it is a profound part of my legacy, a gene whose absence is as demanding as its presence.

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