Way back when I was ‘just a kid’ living in Metuchen NJ in the mid-fifties, my life time best friend Ray shared our tropical fish hobby as only two teen boys can. One day Ray’s really neat mom, Marie, decided she wanted to decorate their living room with a fish tank very different that what we were doing or even could afford to do. She wanted a long rectangular tank with black sand and black background filled with the vey colorful fish, truly a neon colored small fish, the neon tetra.

neon <- Neon tetra

Now Ray and I when we could afford to buy fish at our local small town haunt, Tropical Pet Land, it was one or two fish at a time. Marie bought, as I recall in my memory of that amazing venture, what must have been maybe 100 (ok, maybe only 50?) beautiful Neon tetras (or maybe the more colorful Cardinal tetra?) for that long Betta tank for over their mantle place. What an extravagance! I’m sure she must have had our friend, Bruce, the shop owner, place a special order for that large a quantify of those radiant fish. I can never forget that scene and the impression it made on my young hobbyist mind.
Move ahead more than half a century and Ray and I still go fishing, driving from fish store to store, looking for a bargain and often offering to buy a whole school of maybe a dozen of some fish for his 22+ tanks, or my 3 large tanks, to get a good price. Nowadays that means getting fish down to maybe few dollars each, which in retirement now, we can afford and enjoy.

cardinals <- Cardinal tetras
Still fascinated with the Neon and even more colorful Cardinal tetra fish, I regularly keep a half dozen in one of my tanks for pure pleasure. Recently I decided to grow that school to a more colorful 20 or so fish.

Calling Ray to share that memory of his mom’s adventure so long ago, Ray corrected my memory. It wasn’t that long a tank, maybe only 20 inches in length. The ‘huge school’ of Neons (not Cardinals) was just 20 (still a huge number back in those teenage days). They didn’t last that long, contracting some common Neon fish disease, ending her colorful experiment. But that still lasts in my memory, and there it is still a very long tank filled with 100 (well maybe only 50) bright colorful Cardinals shining like neon lights against that black gravel and background.
Today, for however long they last, I have two schools of 20+ fish in each of two large tanks, mostly Neons, but at least 10 are Cardinals, moving Marie’s memory into today’s reality where I can actually validate those numbers and yes, there are 20 in each tank.
Thanks Marie, for the wonderful memories (my eyes are tearing up as I write this and recall her impact on our lives those many years ago), often driving us kids to a swimming hole in her pink (yes, PINK!) Buick, the Stanley Home Products distinctive award she earned for a lifetime of customer sales and service, which today is still carried on by her son, Ray, my lifetime friend and fellow tropical fish hobbyist.
Check out my office tank with its school of Cardinals and Neons recorded minutes ago now on YouTube for you at https://youtu.be/H2FtpXVFYF0

When I look back on my personal values, one that has remained constant over these past 7 decades has been always learning something new. Much of that comes in the form of reading or listening to audio books, with two or three books in progress at any given time. Even in looking back over a career that I can honestly say I loved every day of it, whether it was short order cook (teen years at Danford’s in Metuchen, NJ), selling jewelry at Metuchen Jeweler’s, giving customer service at the local tropical pet store or car hopping at Stewart’book librarys Root Beer stand in nearby Ford’s NJ (great lessons when you work on tips – good service means rewards with each car you waited on; work hard and you make more – lessons every young person needs to learn to succeed in later years), or teaching high school mathematics (at St. Peter’s high school in New Brunswick NJ where I attended and later taught at as a peer with my former teachers – loved those kids and working days!).  I even was the high school tennis coach, an assignment that drove me to the library to learn how to play and score tennis since I had no background in the sport until then.

Geometry teacher (1968) JFK High School, Iselin, NJ

Geometry teacher (1968) JFK High School, Iselin, NJ

Later in corporate America working at Sperry, Univac, Unisys – the names changed over my forty years, as did the company – but always moving into a different challenging role every 3 years – constantly learning new things, usually by sitting down with individual team members and watching them do a job, then asking if I can try my had at it – great bonding and fun way to learn. Whether it was teaching (yes, never strayed far from that stand up in front of a classroom even in this environment) or presenting product to a customer/prospect, I was learning and growing.

It was during those years that I came to recognize how important a value that was to giving me satisfaction in my life. It was never hard work even when it required working beyond 24 hours in a day, and sometimes it did!

Now in retirement that still plays a major role in living a fulfilled life each day. Whether its hosting a support group meeting for organ transplant patients learning from a kidney recipient turned kidney transplant surgeon last Thursday evening, Saturday attending a day long leadership summit listening to a presenter from the UK sharing what organ donation is like in their world, attending a bible study on Sunday followed by a learning workshop on how to lead a church council, each expands my world of interest just as it has for these many years.

And so it goes, bones may ache, health conditions may challenge, but the mind remains alive and hungry. That’s why, after reading a Washington Post editorial about the political climate just before now, I found myself distracted in watching a YouTube video on how they make bubble gum! (which I then posted on Twitter, another social media resource I’m trying to learn how to use effectively – learning, learning, learning!) – and then was moved to share here in my long neglected blog, this story of today and learnings.

So what are your values that make your own daily life worth living? Not sure? Take some quiet time to ask and answer that question, then focus more of your life in that direction to get more enjoyment out of life today and everyday.

So now I’m off to more reading and a to-do list that is too long for a life in retirement that is supposed to be one of quiet and resting. My lesson for you today: don’t believe it – life is to be lived and the more you learn the more interesting each day can be.

What does one write in a blog?  For me the answer is serendipity moments in life.  Today, for example, a friend, Mary Wu, wrote about her name, challenging her blog readers to respond to a question about our nicknames.  Despite a list of things to do, I usually stop and reply to her thoughtful sharings.   Today I wrote back  . . .

To Mary: What an interesting challenge (“what’s in your name/nickname…?”) – for me I have a few nicknames, “Jimmy Mike” was an early name used when mom meant business.

Jimmy Mike, little sister, Sissy, and mom - 1947

Jimmy Mike, little sister, Sissy, and mom – 1947

Mimmy Mike” was used by my loving grandmother in growing up, she even still used that when I was a teenager and beyond.

Jim at year of graduation from St. Peter's High School (1960)

Jimmy at graduation from St. Peter’s High School (1960)

Just “Jimmy” by my friends – esp Ray & Joyce who have been in my life since 5th grade –  who still use that today, after 60+ years of friendship from growing up and through adulthood

Jim & Ray, friends for 65+ years with many more to come . . .

Jim & Ray, friends for 65+ years with many more to come . . .





As a high school math teacher, it was “Mr. Gleason” to my students.

"Mister Gleason" at the blackboard (1968)

“Mister Gleason” at the blackboard (1968)









For family and most friends today, it’s just plain “Jim

"Jim" is the most common today

“Jim” is the most common today












My full formal name: James Michael Gleason – taken from my father’s, James Michael, so I’m really a ‘Jr” a name that traces back to my grandfather on his side, “Michael James” – and then we named my son, to avoid the dreadful  “2nd” “Michael James.”

"My wonderful dad" and namesake, James Michael Gleason, Sr.

“My wonderful dad” and namesake, James Michael Gleason, Sr.



But most interesting is the surname, “Gleason” which means ‘son of a glass maker.’  My father was a ceramic engineer and did actually create, from natural elements, new types of glass, so I am indeed a “Glea-son”, the son of my father the glass maker!



I’ve always accepted my name and nick names proudly, especially once I found that meaning and connection to my dad’s occupation/name, “glass-maker”

“So what’s in your name?”

In order for there to be a heart transplant, someone has to be on the other side, a heart donor.  For the elated recipient and family, there is another family going through a tragic sad loss.  And so it is with my transplant success story here.

Let me first say that for as much publicity we see around the TV show stories of donors and recipients meeting, it isn’t a common thing given the anonymous process by which an organ becomes the gift for a dying patient.  My best guess is that less than 5% ever get to know their donor family, much less actually get to meet each other.  That said, I am blessed to be one of that small percentage and thus have come to know my parallel story which I will share here.

From meeting my donor’s brother, Gilberto, I know the story of Roberto Cuebas.

Roberto Cuebas - heart donor

Back on October 8th, Roberto was out celebrating his 38th birthday in Brooklyn, New York.  He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was attacked on the street and beaten about the head with a baseball bat.  For the next ten days, Roberto lay in a comma (that’s not death) and when his brain stopped, was declared brain dead.  His brother, Gilberto, led his brothers and sisters to make the decision for Roberto to be an organ donor.  His heart ended up over in Philadelphia that fateful day, October 19th, saving the life of this dying man at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  Amazingly, that strong athletic heart is still beating today, 21 years later in the body of this 72 years young man sharing this story.


Gil and I met in person at the 2000 US Transplant Games where we sat together in the donor recognition ceremonies in Florida that year.

G Cuebas and JimG Cuebas and Jim standing

Each year on the anniversary I send him an update on the past years life with that heart.  Last year as that day approached for some reason I was hesitant to write, feeling that maybe these annual letters might be bringing sadness back into their family life.  But few days before that writing, , Gil called and in that surprise conversation he mentioned how much he was looking forward for that years update letter.  Much relieved, I sat down and finished that letter, just as I did last Thursday again this year, expressing my heartfelt gratitude and offering news and photo updates for the past year.

One highlight in that letter was our visit to Roberto’s grave in Brooklyn recently, where we left a bouquet of flowers from our home garden and prayed over the site where both he and his parents are buried as seen in this photo . . .

DSCN9720 compr  DSCN9713

(a continuation of the story below from Oct 19th, 1994 . . .)
Sometime later that day, (October 20th) after the 6am, (not a false start of that 6pm first reaction…) realization that the new heart was beating strong in this weakened frame, the team of docs stopped in to check out progress. I was awake and feeling great, enjoying breaths of air so different from the day before. They asked “So, how’s the pain?” to which I amazingly and honestly replied, “I don’t have any pain.”

Their response was “Well you will after the anesthesia wears off!” (funny side note: every time I share that exchange in telling my story to medical audiences, they almost always laugh. I have yet to figure out how that forecast of pain is so funny, but it is a consistent reaction to that story – go figure!) They left, only to return several hours later and asking the same question, “How’s the pain?” to which I again am happy to reply, “Still no pain!” Imagine that, given all that has to take place to access the old heart – break open the sternum, remove that heart, place the new one in and connect it, then close each layer of the body back up – and NO PAIN! In the years since I can confirm that many others I have mentored had the same experience!

During that second visit, they asked, “Do you think you can sit up?”  I was willing if they were ok with that and with help I was sitting on the side of the bed.  Then they asked, “Do you think you can walk over to that chair there?”  It wasn’t a marathon, but heck, within 24 hours of having your heart replaced, there I was walking (with support) across the short distance to sit in a chair.  “Awesome!”

The next day someone delivered the news that they had to get me out of that surgical intensive care recovery room. They had a heart coming for John, the third heart-beat! All three of us received our new hearts the same week, something they say often happens in sets of three in hospitals. Imagine that!

Once out of intensive care, my answers to the daily question of how are you doing continued to be “Great!”  “Humm…” they would say, “that should be wearing off by now.”  Thank God, it didn’t.  That feeling was – and continues to be – great!  (yes, even many more miles and 21 years later, still great each and every day)

I clearly remember the chief surgeon, Dr. Michael Acker, coming into my room a couple days after the surgery looking tired and resting back into the chair next to my bed.  He shared his feelings with the following exchange: “Mr. Gleason, I held your (old) heart in my hands (Jim: Wow, just imagine that!) and I can tell you, there is no way it could have supported your active life style!  It was so damaged – less than 15% capacity left – a real testament to the human spirit that you could keep up with all you were doing!”  Talk about emotions!  Let me just close with an emotional “Thank you!” to everyone involved in making it possible to share the experience in this writing – i.e, in helping to get me over to this extended new life I now live.  No more caring and loving professionals could ever have been found.  They really became “family” and in my life that term is very special, because I am blessed with a very large and loving family.

(stay tuned for a parallel story . . .)

About this time – 6pm – or shortly after, back on Wednesday, October 19th of 1994 (21 years ago) I was unconscious being wheeled our of my heart transplant surgery, so have no real memory of that time.
I clearly recall (and love sharing the story) of my HUP transplant coordinator nurse, Heather’s phone call early that morning to say “Mr. Gleason, I think we have a heart for you!” I said thanks, looked up and said a payer of thanks, and called family to suggest they come down as things were going to start happening.
The donor recovery process isn’t a fast one, so it was later that afternoon that two pretty (as I seem to recall) nurses came to say it was time and took me on that gurney to the waiting surgical team. I confess there was no fear at all. I had waited only five weeks and while I knew from their daily visits that time was indeed running out (as confirmed years later when Heather shared her own fears from back then as her part in my book, A Gift from the Heart, knowing that the weaken heart was failing and it was only a matter of days left) but had accepted that “God’s will be done” while still praying for my miracle. Ron (after waiting 9 weeks), had received his heart two days earlier, while John, the third of the ‘3 heart BEATS – that’s Bodies Eagerly Awaiting Transplant Surgery – was to receive his own new heart one day later (waiting 7 weeks). I followed their instructions, counting back from 100, 99, 98, 97 and . . . was asleep, missing the excitement that was to follow while worried family lived through the typically 5 hour wait for results of the surgery.
Waking up in a closed room I noticed the hands on the wall clock said 6:00, so feeling no pain (amazing as that may seem) I thought since its only been a few hours, this must have been a false start, a common event where the heart being recovered was not suitable for some reason. That had happened to Ron twice before he finally got his earlier that week, so John and I were prepared for that possible disappointment. Writing on a pad as the nurse was removing a tube from my throat, “False start, huh?” she turned to me and said, “Mr. Gleason, didn’t they tell you, YOU have a new HEART!” It was 6am, not pm. I had awakened, they tell me, around midnight for a short visit with family, but had no memory of that due to the effects of the anesthesia. With the deepest and best breath of air possible (you don’t get a good breath of air when living with cardiomyopathy), I was alive with a new strong heart beating in the staple closed chest, ready for a new life filled adventure.
(. . . to be continued – as life goes on Oct 20th and beyond)

Maybe you’ve seen this story before, and then again maybe you haven’t and now you will, but either way I hope you are moved to tears as I was again when a friend sent this to me. Sharing tears between friends is a very holy trust that one only does with a special and close friend. Those tears come deep from emotions that are central to being truly human. (You can read elsewhere on this blog how I found my own tears, a gift from my father at his funeral, a final parting gift from a loving father to his son who needed to accept himself in shedding tears as mom and I walked his casket down the aisle at his homecoming Mass).


I cried the first time I saw this story many years ago, and did again now when another heart close friend shared it with me today.
I arrived at the address and honked the horn.

After waiting a few minutes I honked again.

Since this was going to be my last ride
of my shift I thought about just driving
away, but instead I put the cab in park and
walked up to the door and knocked..

‘Just a minute’, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened.

A small woman in her 90’s stood before me.
She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox
hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody
out of a 1940’s movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase.
The apartment looked as if no one had
lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters.
In the corner was a cardboard box
filled with photos and glassware.

‘Would you carry my bag out to the car?’ she said.

I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned
to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly
toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness.

‘It’s nothing’, I told her. ‘I just try to treat
my passengers the way I would want
my mother to be treated.’

‘Oh, you’re such a good boy, she said.

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, ‘Could you drive through downtown?’

‘It’s not the shortest way,’ I answered quickly..

‘Oh, I don’t mind,’ she said. ‘I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.’​

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.

‘I don’t have any family left,’ she continued in a soft voice.. ‘The doctor says I don’t have very long.’

I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

‘What route would you like me to take?’ I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city.

She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds.

She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, ‘I’m tired. Let’s go now.​’

We drove in silence to the address she had given me.

It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent,
watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already
seated in a wheelchair.

‘How much do I owe you?’ She asked, reaching into her purse.

‘Nothing,’ I answered.

‘You have to make a living,’ she said.

‘There are other passengers,’ I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.
She held onto me tightly.

‘You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.
Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life..​ .​

I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought.

For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk.
What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to
end his shift?

What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.

But great moments often catch us unaware – beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.
At the bottom of this great story was a
request to forward this – I deleted that
request because if you have read to this
point, you won’t have to be asked to
pass it along, you just will…
Thank you, my friend…
Life may not be the party we hoped for,
but while we are here
we might as well dance.

– Jim G