I gave blood yesterday. It was my sixteenth donation.
Yes, that’s a humblebrag. I feel like the gamification of blood donation is entirely reasonable. Levelling up in blood donation feels like the opposite of frequent flyer points. Instead of a growing sense of shame at how your accumulated activity is destroying the planet, you get increasing affirmation that you’re helping others.
Besides, I don’t have Strava, or Peleton, or rings to close, or whatever. I don’t even do Wordle. So this is the only “streak” I can legitimately boast about.
The more I give blood, the more I enjoy it.
I know that sounds weird. Surely having a needle shoved in your arm isn’t meant to be enjoyable?
It’s true that the first or second time you do it, it can feel intimidating, maybe even a little scary. I’m lucky that I don’t have much of an aversion to needles—much respect to those who do, but donate anyway.
But once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes routine. Actually, it’s more than routine. It’s like a ritual.
Not to get all spiritual here when we’re talking about an entirely biological process, but there is something special going on…
You join together with other members of your community. Strangers. People from all walks of life, all of them gathered in one place to do the same thing: sacrifice a small portion of themselves for the greater good.
It’s like a more egalitarian version of most religious narratives. Instead of a single saviour making a grand sacrifice, you get many individuals partaking in their own mini crucifixations. A little discomfort and that’s it. Multiply that by the number of people gathered together and you’ve got a magnificent network effect. Less dramatic than the hero’s journey, but far more effective.
Usually in our society, if you want to do good, it’s tied to money. You inherit wealth or accumulate it through work and luck, and then you can choose to do good by redistributing some of that moolah. The more you’ve got, the more you can choose to give away. So the amount of potential good that can be done comes down to the whims of the people who have the most money.
Giving blood doesn’t work like that. We’ve all got the same amount of blood.
The memento mori that are scattered through the history of human culture are there to remind us that death is the great leveller. Prince or pauper, we all meet the same end. That also applies to our blood. Prince or pauper, we’re all equal when it comes to blood donation.
That’s one of the reasons I like returning to give blood every few months. It restores my faith in humanity. I look around the room and see all these people that I don’t know, but we’re all there to complete our individual rituals. We all contribute the same amount. It’s a very personal choice, but there’s a communal feeling that comes from being with all these strangers who have made the same choice.
Besides, it’s just a nice opportunity to step away from the day-to-day. Bring a good book to read during the waiting periods before and after donation. During the donation itself, you’ve got this time to think and reflect. It’s quite meditative, opening and closing your hand to help the flow. Almost trance-like.
And then you get free biscuits.
That isn’t quite the end though. A few days later you get a text message telling you where your blood will be used. I love that part. It feels like closing the loop.
It’s funny that we often use the language of blood to describe supply chains: arterial networks carrying goods in and out of hubs; the pumping systems that keep society alive. When that text message arrives, it’s like a little bit of you is part of an infrastructure for helping others.
You can find a donation opportunity near you on the blood.co.uk website.