I mourned a writer friend today who died of kidney failure. Twice Robyn was given kidneys, first by her father, when she was only thirteen. That kidney lasted twenty-two years — time that allowed her to finish high school, graduate from Colorado College, ride like the wind on her beloved horses, and adopt a stable of cats and border collies.
When her kidney began to fail, another hero stepped forward: her oldest nephew Walker. His life had taken some dark turns but he now wanted to make good in the world. This was his shot. Walker’s kidney sustained Robyn for seventeen years. That was another lifetime for Robyn.
Walker spoke movingly at the memorial service about the “hero” label Robyn had bestowed upon him. It had made him uncomfortable for years. “Because she saved my life, too,” he said in a quivering voice. He hadn’t spoken the words before, “She saved me, too.” His redemption was felt by all, and it silenced us.
Here’s an excerpt from Robyn’s gorgeous essay “The Half Light,” which can be read in entirety at Shadowbox Magazine. This particular passage introduces Robyn’s sister, Nancy, who is also Walker’s mother. The scene is a hospital room, where Robyn lies in grave condition after being kicked in the sternum by her horse. Ninety pounds of flesh, that’s right, and still she lived to write and reflect.
Whatever dream has a hold of Nancy, it looks like it might be breaking her heart. She’s crying in that dream; a tear escapes into this world. She could be dreaming of her misplaced son. Walker might be reaching for her, might be pleading for her to help him again, and even in sleep she can’t figure a way out for her beautiful boy. Drugs and alcohol are a maze. His bone-deep sorrow is an even murkier mystery. He is twenty. Fair or not, I imagine my sister knows time might be running out for him, but it’s moving at a much slower pace than it is for me. Walker’s salvation surely requires heroic efforts. But they are probably going to have to be his.
The transcendent power of Robyn’s words speak for themselves, but still, it must be said, Robyn (and Walker), you taught me something invaluable today about what it really means to give and take. Is there anything more pure?