Amy Silverstein is the author of the new memoir My Glory Was I Had Such Friends. It focuses on her second heart transplant and the role her friends played in helping her. She also has written the memoir Sick Girl, and her work has appeared in SELF, Prevention, and Glamour magazines. She lives in New York.
Q: Why did you decide to write this second memoir, and what does the title signify for you?
A: I had to tell this story. What my friends did for me is something that needs to be shared. I felt this deeply and swiftly after my second transplant.
Having had my first transplant at 25 years old and my second at 50, and noting the marked difference in how my friends showed up (or, as it happened, did not show up the first time), I felt there was something beyond my own narrow experience to write about—something universal: that empathy expands with age, and it’s a magnificent thing to recognize and celebrate.
Friendship, seen through the intense lens of my story, quickly became the center of the book I would write about my second heart transplant.
And the title: Well, it signifies that I am not the hero here. I am not the inspiration, as I see it. I have worked with all my might and intention to stay alive in my post-transplant years. Survival has not been easy, and the friends, family and doctors who’ve been with me on this journey know this well.
But any glory—any praise or credit or wonder or magnificence—has its place in those around me: my husband, my friends, my son, my family, as well as in the two organ donors and their families who have given me my pulse—twice.
In this book, I’ve chosen to focus on my friends, yes, their glory. But my main thought is that whatever glory may be, it surely is outside of myself.
Q: Have your friends read the book, and what do they think of it?
A: My friends told me that the book made them cry even though they lived the whole story alongside me. They say they learned things about me (I was extraordinarily open and honest in writing this book), and that they appreciated how I wrote deliberately about what I learned from each of them during our time in my hospital room.
They felt that I gave voice to the unspoken marvels of what we all accomplished together.
I am so thankful for my friends’ allowing me to write them on paper. They gave me free rein in weaving the happenings and meanings as I saw them to be.
My friends insisted that I write without regard for how they might appear. It was easy, though, because they were a rainbow of angels – sounds like I’m overdoing it with that phrase, sorry. But yes, they were colorful, magical angels in this book—and in my hospital room.
Q: You describe some extremely difficult experiences in both your memoirs. What impact did writing the books have on you, and how are you doing now?
A: Let me say this: I have not found it cathartic in the least to put my worst medical challenges and dire moments on paper. If anything, I’ve learned that it is, instead, courageous to do so.
Because when you pull the curtain away and show the truth of the truth, it is hard to look at—and then, hard to defend, when a few very vocal readers rebuke you for it.
So, writing these books has taught me (forced me?) to examine closely what my purpose is in writing them. My aim cannot be for praise or even for understanding, as reader reactions will run never be uniformly positive and affirming.
Here’s where I’ve landed with regard to my books’ impact: I hope to make readers reflect on their own lives and feel something that they hadn’t before picking up my books.
Maybe some readers might feel less alone. Maybe some might understand a family member better, or view medical challenges differently, or find a new way to be strong or kind or empathetic, or have a sense that the universe is full of unimaginable situations that are worth their attention and thought.
I’ve lived an unusual existence. Its realities show up in bold, bright colors, thrusting life lessons to the fore. We learn from each other in this life, right? By example. By inspiration. And yes, by rejection and criticism. At this point, I am honored to put my story and myself out there, and I do so with a sense of pride and hope.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: At its core, My Glory Was I had Such Friends is about the power of women to show up for those we love, and the amazing happenings that come of our reaching deep down and pulling out the strengths and abilities that have formed and solidified within us as we’ve grown older.
We women are wonderful nurturers, listeners, and tenders; for some of us, this part of ourselves feels like it’s in our DNA. But beyond this, we have a powerful presence that can change the course of our lives and of those around us as well.
Oh, how our hard-earned wisdom matters! And our intuition! And our cleverness that shines in the most useful, humanistic ways!
I hope readers will take away a sense of the possibilities that lie deep in their friendships, just waiting to be discovered.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m writing articles for online and print publications, and doing some appearances at bookstores, as well as some radio and television shows.
It’s a fun and busy time, and I’m finding that each opportunity to revisit my book and write or talk about it shows me again with the marvel of my friends and the amazing life force they were and are for me.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: That I am living a completely different life now—different from the very sick 26 life years after my first transplant.
This is because the medical science of heart transplant is much improved, and it is practiced with expertise and compassion at my new transplant center in California. I actually feel well; this is an astounding outcome that neither my friends nor I thought was possible.
I didn’t get a chance to write much about this in my new book, but maybe I will in my next one...
--Interview with Deborah Kalb