As the blood drains from my body, I am thinking about how unaware I ordinarily am of the vital rivers coursing inside me. These intricate streams bring me everything I need to live, and yet when they do their job, they do it so efficiently that their presence is scarcely felt. Only occasionally, during moments of extreme terror or excitement, do I feel my beating heart and think about the ramifications of that beating — blood to my brain, blood to my legs, and blood to every cell of my body so it is ready to respond to whatever comes its way. But that awareness is rare; my daily life allows me blissful ignorance of that which is most vital.

But as I watch my blood passing through the little tube, winding around my chair, filling up the little sack, I am all too aware. I think of all the weight the blood carries in the symbolism of the ages. Violence, death, love. And life. How can one thing embody such contradictory ideas? How can it be both the essence of life and the epitome of death? But of course, if it truly provides the one it must embody also the other. To take blood from another is the greatest act of violence, to give blood, the greatest act of love. When the blood lies still in the veins, or pours from the body, that is death. When it remains within and flows through the body, that is life.

And then there are those moments in life which transcend these definitions, in which violence and love seem to come together, where the line between life and death is blurred. A surgeon wielding a knife, wreaking destruction on healthy tissue, perpetrating violence with the greatest love. A woman giving birth, in pain and bloodshed, to a whole new life. An eight-day-old boy, losing a drop of blood and gaining an identity, becoming more than just a boy. It seems to me that in those moments we transcend the very parameters of these contravening symbols; we're enabled a glimpse into what it means to do more than simply live, and to truly never die.

I am nearly finished. My bag is filling, swollen with the deep red liquid that swirls within it. When I began, my body had eight pints of blood to nourish it; now it has seven. But I know that even now, the cells that remain are working feverishly to replenish. When I stand up I will feel dizzy for but a moment, and then the blood will rush to my brain and I will walk out of the room erect and proud. And tomorrow, my body will be bounding back, new blood streaming through its veins, and I will feel healthier than ever, more alive than I did an hour ago.

And I don't know why, but the thought brings a lump to my throat, and as the last few drops of my blood fill the bag, and the attendant comes and cuts the cord connecting me to it, I offer a little prayer that I should always be healthy enough to give a bag of my blood to an anonymous stranger.