Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world.” As I see it, it teaches us that by working to perfect ourselves, we each contribute in our own unique way to the perfecting of the world. This, to me, is the Jewish version of “paying it forward.”
Although I can’t say I completely understood the depth of its meaning when I donated my eggs to an infertile Jewish couple at the age of 18, I somehow knew it was simply something I needed to do. It was a calling, if you will. In anticipation, I awaited my 18th birthday until I was legally eligible to give this gift.
I didn’t have a recipient couple in mind so I connected with a reputable agency in Los Angeles. I completed more paperwork than I knew existed for one event and my eggs became officially up for grabs. My parents, in all their Jewish worry, questioned my decision, but quickly became the ultimate support.
Within weeks, I was chosen out of a book of donors by a 40-something couple in Beverly Hills, California who fell in love with my letter:
Dear Mommy and Daddy to be,
I know you know what I look like and obviously you care about that. You want your baby to blend into your family. You know that I've had my tonsils out because you saw my medical history and you know that I work in the editorial field because I answered the questions about my career. But what will you tell your little one when they wonder why they chew their cuticles to pieces while leaving their nails perfectly intact? Or, how will you explain where they got their infatuation with every shade of the color blue? I am blonde haired, green-eyed and five feet short. But that is just the beginning of the being I encompass. I am compassionate to the core, quirkiness looms around every corner of my personality and I possess passion that is sometimes so overwhelming it completely takes over my life. I was born with loyalty that is stronger than steel, never doing wrong to those who have done right by me, and not even to those who haven't.
I experienced weeks of compulsively craving bagels and lox as I suffered through hormone injections, and eventually, the aspiration of many eggs. The exact number to be matched with sperm and implanted was handed over to the recipient couple for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
A couple of days after the outpatient surgery, I went to the clinic for a follow up appointment and was asked what I wanted to have done with the excess eggs. I was given three choices; one being to have them “discarded.” When I asked the nurse what that meant, she stepped on the foot pedal of a nearby trash can, watching the lid quickly pop open and said, “They go in a trash can just like this, except it’s lined with a different bag.” I instantly marked the box on the form that gave all legal rights of my eggs to the recipient couple. No DNA of mine was going to end up in a can.
In accordance with the legal agreement of my donation, I never found out if the couple’s attempts to have a baby were successful.
Still, I felt genuinely blessed for the incredible opportunity to donate those tiny potentials for life.
My life went on.
In fact, it went on for ten years before that incredible experience showed all of its important colors.
In 2007, I found myself suffering from a debilitating incurable illness, failed by Western medicine. I struggled. I searched my soul. And then I found out about a controversial and experimental embryonic stem cell therapy program in India that was changing lives. I explored how my religion views this topic; and discovered in Jewish tradition, the concept of pikuach nefesh—“the responsibility to save human life”—prevails.
I continued to research and contemplate and even wondered if I’d live to go. Then I began to wonder if I’d live through it once I got there. I sat and listened with my heart before writing this in my journal:
If I pass up opportunity in the face of fear, I will have betrayed the person I am so proud to be—the free spirit, a passionate soul, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor who refused to die in the darkest of the world's circumstances, and someone who is lucky to be raised with enough confidence to follow my heart halfway around the world beyond most people's wildest imaginations.
I boarded a plane to New Delhi, India, two months after my decision. I was thrown into a new culture and learned the concept of karma. I marveled at how my decision to donate my eggs 10 years earlier was coming full circle now; now I was the one who so desperately wanted more life.
Over the next few years, I regained my strength and my health. I am now beaming with life and plan to live it for a long, long time.
I continue to follow my heart, give where I am called, and have the absolute blessing of helping others on their healing path.
Perhaps I repaired the world in some tiny way, just by giving another human hope for a baby. Perhaps I actually gave life, in which case that child has surely bettered the world. Perhaps the love and compassion of that experience changed me in ways I needed, to give more to those I now know. I don’t think any of us will ever know the manifestations of practicing tikkun olam. And maybe that’s part of the beauty.
What I am sure of now though, is that a gift never stops at the recipient. Each little move you make in the direction of giving, love and compassion, may reach ten times further than your own arm. This is why we must all give—to ourselves and beyond that. And who knows, if you do, you might just see it come right back to you when you need it the most.
Amy B. Scher is the author of This is How I Save My Life – A True Story of Embryonic Stem Cells, Indian Adventures, and Ultimate Self-Healing (January 2013). She is an energy therapy practitioner with offices in Los Angeles and Monterey, California, and a frequent contributor to healthcare blogs. She has presented at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Amy is eternally thankful for her years of illness and her ultimate self-healing.