Ten years ago next month—close enough to my birthday to call it the world’s worst present—I was diagnosed with an acute onset of Crohn’s disease.
Thanks to great care, a little luck, and the world’s most amazing diet, I was able to avoid both surgery and aggressive, costly immunosuppressive therapy; still, my 11-day stay at the “Sheraton Cedars Sinai” alone cost upwards of $40,000. In 2004. I don’t want to think about what my birthday colonoscopy would cost today. (Actually, I don’t want to think about colonoscopies at all. Ever again. Especially birthday ones.)
In those five months between flat-on-my-back and back-on-my-feet, I learned what love was. I learned it from the hospital staff, whose dedication to my recovery went far, far beyond what their wages warranted. (Kind orderly with the miserable task of collecting my bloody poop every day, I’m looking at you.) I learned it from theater pals who brought DVDs by the bagful, and stayed to share funny stories in the merciless heat of my sweaty apartment. I learned it from my friend, Greg, who grocery shopped for me with the patience of Job, and from my ex-boyfriend, who put aside his grudges and neuroses to take out my garbage and do my laundry—once, with my sister, who did everything, and too readily, and any time I asked, and as many times when I couldn’t.
And because for me, money is inextricably bound up with matters of the heart, I learned love once again from my perpetually generous father, whose first response upon hearing of my predicament (after “OH MY GOD ARE YOU ALL RIGHT I’M GETTING ON A PLANE RIGHT NOW!!!”) was “Tell me what you need; I’ll write you a check.”
Unbelievably, and for the first time in a long, long time, I did not need money. At all. My relationship may have tanked, but I’d had good year financially—my best since quitting advertising, a decade before. I was single, debt-free, and swimming in glorious, liquid cash.
Money can’t buy you love, but it can buy you health insurance and five months to get your shit together. Literally, in my case!
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Last year, I had an extraordinary birthday. It was the birthday of a lifetime—a celebration for the ages! With the help of over a thousand friends—some I’d met, many more that I made—I raised over $100,000 for a group of women and girls whose dedication to meaningful change still takes my breath away.
One of those friends was Patti Digh, a writer whose work I’d long admired, but whom I’d met scant months before, and certainly had no business expecting anything of. Of course, if I’d paid attention to the life she’d led and the causes she’d championed and the all-in, full-out way she’d done both, I’d have known that when Patti signed on to help, Patti helped.
She contributed an interview—one of my favorites of the 50—but she didn’t stop there. She gave money; she gave more money. She summoned her legions of fans, and they, in turn, gave money, and shared with their friends. Privately, she sent me wigs in the mail—Marge Simpson hair, Fat-Elvis hair, Marilyn hair, rainbow-’fro hair, bright-pink poodle hair. “Life is a verb,” says Patti, and she means it. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who lives the ever-loving shit out of their life like Patti Digh does. I surely don’t.
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Today is Patti’s birthday. As far as I’m concerned, every birthday she has is extraordinary because that’s the kind of life she lives every ding-dong day.
This birthday stands out for a different reason, though: two weeks ago, Patti’s husband John—a man so wise and funny and generous, his nickname is “Mr. Brilliant”—was diagnosed with renal cancer. Which is, of course, a way crappier birthday present than almost losing your colon and having a camera shoved up your ass.
But it gets worse: the Digh/Ptak household has no health insurance. They did have, for years, but, well, the vagaries of self-employment and caring for two children in a bad economy can force some pretty tough decisions on a family. So here we are: two of the most wonderful people in the world, kicked upside the head by circumstance.
Are they more wonderful than anyone else who needs help? Well, being truly wonderful people, Patti and John would argue that they are not. And I cede the point. The older and poorer I get, the more compassion I have for all people. Everyone deserves decent care, and clean water to drink, and not to have to worry about getting raped on the way to the well to fetch it. Everyone.
Right now, though, is not about everyone. It’s about two friends who mean a lot to me, who have done a lot for me and for the world, and who now need help. (Patti and John have not asked for this help; their friends, who are also wonderful, just figured it out and jumped on it.) To paraphrase my friend John Gruber from a year ago, it would be really nice to see a little bump in dollars from people who read this blog. Especially since there’s a matching donation of $25,000 set to kick in when we roll over to $50K—I mean, lordy be, the symmetry!
If you are inclined to make a donation, a friend has set up a place to do that.
If you’d like to buy a t-shirt, another friend has taken care of that.
If you’d just like to show your support by clicking a button and sharing your own love—well, you get the idea.
You can even join some 500 of us Patti-crazed lunatics in a glorious, 137-day creative odyssey led by Patti herself. Pay what you can, all proceeds go to the cause. The journey begins today. UPDATE: 137 Days has maxed out at 1,000 (!!!) sturdy pioneers, but you can still donate, buy a shirt, join the Team Brilliant page on Facebook for further updates, and do cartwheels on the nearest patch of grass. I’m fairly sure cartwheels done with abandon aid the cause.
Whatever you can do, my friend—or my friend I’ve yet to meet—I thank you for…