Love from a Borrowed Heart

“And what does your father do for a living?”

Twenty fathers sitting in a circle, on the brightly colored rug of a preschool classroom, twenty squirming toddlers in their laps.

We were at my son’s preschool for “Bring Your Dad to School” day. One by one, we were telling the class what we did for a living.

One said, “My daddy is a lawyer.” We all bit our tongues—no one made a lawyer joke!

Yet another smiled and said “My daddy fixes teeth!” We all smiled back at how proud the little one was of his father.

Around the room we went until we came to my son.

Brian smiled and sat up a little straighter. "My daddy steals!" he proudly proclaimed.

Everyone was quiet, especially the teacher.

I cleared my throat. “Actually, I’m in the steel business. I’m the CEO of Paragon Steel—the metal! Not stealing.”

Another dad piped up, "Oh, we thought you were a lawyer too!"

We all laughed. The little kids were so excited to share what Dad did, even if it was stealing.

Brian telling everyone I was in “steal” for a living was perhaps my favorite child classroom story until my sister asked me to speak to her 5th grade class regarding my triple organ transplant. She asked me to tell my story on the same day as the father of another student, a fireman.

Let’s be honest: it was hard to compete with a fireman, dressed in his fireman uniform, and telling stories about saving lives (and even a few cats from trees). I had to explain that my transplants were all inside my body so the students couldn't see them.

They liked the fireman's outfit better. 

I asked the class: "What would happen if you got sick and your heart needed to be replaced?"

They all stared at me, confused by the question. For them, healthy and young, the strong thump of a reliable heartbeat was the only reality they could imagine. I told them that I had an incredible surgery that saved my life all because a heart had been given to me from a kind and generous family.  The family of a boy, a boy who decided to be a hero.

They were quiet, a few in the class starting to understand the magnitude of the gift I had been given.

One child raised his hand and asked, "How can you love somebody without a heart?"

I thought for a moment. "You can always love the important people in your life, heart or no heart. Love is a feeling. Feelings don’t just live in your heart, they live in you.”

After that, the kids couldn’t stop sharing. A girl raised her hand and told the class how much she loved her family and her dog. The rest of my time was awash with a classroom expressing how they loved their friends, their brothers and sisters, moms and dads and pets. The fireman stood in silence—a classroom full of kids sharing all the people they love? Even the adults in the room had tears in their eyes.

This is what the heart can do, especially when you get to borrow one from a hero.

Now, I tell the story of working in “steal” when I want to make someone laugh. I tell the story of my transplants when I want to share hope, joy, and love.

Happy Valentine’s Day, from this borrowed heart to yours.