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Learning Life's Lessons From Its Great Teachers

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page G02

I don't know if this is exactly what I'm going to tell the college journalism students in The Washington Post Semester seminar. By the time you read this, I already will have addressed their Friday noontime meeting; and I have a way of changing themes, or abandoning them completely before a speech. But this is what I'm thinking at the moment:

I am an extremely lucky man.

I should have died 10 years ago from kidney failure; but I was spared from early demise by organ donations from my loving wife, Mary Anne Reed-Brown, and a wonderful, loving friend and Post colleague, Martha McNeil Hamilton.

Neither woman had to make such an enormous personal sacrifice. But each chose to do so at separate times for separate reasons. I am forever grateful for their gifts.

People often talk about Mary and Martha in terms of having "saved" my life. I smile and privately dismiss the suggestion.

Nothing physical can be saved. Its useful life can be extended. But houses eventually crumble. The best of cars won't run forever. People die.

I recall a conversation with a terminally ill woman at Georgetown University Hospital who heard about my case. She congratulated me on my latest extension of life. But before allowing me to leave her room, she asked: "What are you going to do with the extra time you've been given?"

I responded quickly, almost without thinking: "I am going to love and work and write as well as I can as long as I can; I am going to see and learn as much as I can, travel wherever I can whenever I can. I am going to live."

"Ah," she said. "You love your life. You are a lucky man."

I am -- very lucky.

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