I have never been very impressed when famous people’s letters are published. Unless they are writing something profound, I don’t care if they were bored one evening and went for a walk or they bought a new puppy and had biscuits for dinner. But then, I never really grew up in an era when letter writing was considered a fine art. Yeah, I would write my mom letters from camp to tell her about the cute camp counselor or what we were eating. In college, my mom would send me letters about the happenings in Fargo, the kids she had to kick out of hockey camp but nothing that’s making publishers start a bidding war. I keep those letters tucked away in a box in my closet along with a lifetime supply of dust bunnies and shoes I’ll never wear again.
About two years ago when my grandpa was dying of cancer, my aunt requested family and friends not call or stop by but send letters so he could read them when he had the energy. I got creative and wandered around town taking pictures of the local sights and things I came across during my day. I pasted them into a letter and included some text about what we were doing and any news from the Pacific Northwest. Well, the letters were well-received and I kept writing them even after my grandpa died. They kept my grandma going and made her smile and that was the only reward I needed.
I continued with the tradition over the summer but stopped doing it after life and an hour long commute cut into my letter writing time. Now that I think about it, I could take interesting pictures during my commute and write the weird characters I see on the train. It’s like blogging. Only different. What is, however is giving my time to someone who needs it.
Recently, I finished an amazing book that’s racing up the best seller charts called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Henrietta Lacks was a poor tobacco farmer living in the South whose cancer cells were taken without her knowledge or permission to become the first immortal human cells grown in culture. These cells helped lead to important medical discoveries like a cure for HPV, polio vaccines and many other diseases. Despite these medical breakthroughs, Henrietta Lacks is buried in an unmarked grave and is virtually unknown. Scientists rave about her “contribution” but her family never knew about it until 20 years later and received no money or compensation from the multi-billion dollar industry her cells help create. You can read more about it by clicking here.
The book made me angry and hopeful at the same time. I got me thinking about the way Native Americans were subjected to scratch DNA tests so they could be studied or how we forced poor black American women to get hysterectomies. The book is very thought-provoking and opened my eyes to the whole idea of medical privacy and what is done with our cells when a doctor removes a wart or a tumor.
The reason I’m writing about these two different topics is because this week on A Closer Look Radio; Life and Other Matters Edition, Pam and Co. will discuss the many ways we can give of ourselves. Whether it’s through voluntourism, writing letters or donating our bodies to science – they’ll cover the all bases. Tune in on Tuesday and chime in on the discussion. In what ways do you give your time or money? Would you donate your body to science and how do you feel about having your cells taken without your permission.