Save a Life: You Can. Yes, YOU.

I had the BEST gift this week. A writer I am acquainted with sent a note commenting on my short story in Ten Stories High. It's always nice to hear compliments, of course, but her comments were thoughtful as well as supportive. (Well, she is also a writer, and a good one.)

She also said, and it's true, that we writers often wonder whether what we're doing is worth it--not to ourselves (writing is necessary for some of us), but to anyone else. Does the world need this story/novel/essay? With the explosive proliferation of content, is my writing really important to anyone else?

It's that "dark of night" question: Have I saved anyone's life? The answer: Probably not.

There are ways, though, to know FOR SURE that your life matters, if not your writing. Teaching is one obvious way. Teachers touch lives every day.

Another, perhaps not-so-obvious way is to join the national bone marrow donor registry in your country. If you donate, you can save a life. Literally.

And it might be my brother's.

Yes, my interest in donor registries is personal. My brother will have a stem cell transplant this spring and they're searching registries for a match. So I have a face to put with his particular database search. And every single person who needs a stem cell transplant is someone's brother or sister, mother or father, son or daughter.

Don't be put off by the medical aspects. Joining the registry requires only a swab of the cells inside your cheeck (just like on CSI!). If your immune system matches someone else's, you are given the opportunity to donate. Some donations are of bone marrow, which is a one-day outpatient procedure, but many donations require only blood. A recent study in Germany, home to the largest marrow donor registry in the world, indicates that of the 12,000+ donors who responded to their survey, 95% would donate again.

So if you're in the US and between the ages of 18 and 60, go to Be the Match to learn about the being a donor. If you're in Canada and between the ages of 17 and 50, go to the One Match registry, run by Canadian Blood Services.

And whatever country you live in, whatever your age or health status, remember that donors join the registry for free--which means that the registries can always use financial contributions to help cover their costs. Donations to these registered charities can help reduce your income tax burden next year.

So, next time that "dark of night" question hits, know that you hold lifesaving power inside you. You only have to share it.

My brother, looking angelic, with my sister and me. I'm the one eating (of course).