After my walk on Sunday, I came home, guzzled some water, and put my feet up.
And then it was time for the closing ceremonies at the Three Day Walk For The Cure. Because, you know, it’s not a real crying jag unless I’m suffocating on my own sobs.
Yep, bawled like a baby. BUT.
I have to admit something here. I am not a fan of walks, or runs, or giant, public awareness campaigns that involve banners and those inflatable clapper tubes. I’ve always thought that a majority of the money raised for those things went into printing cheap sponsor t-shirts and caps and keychains and the like. I also, having lost two grandparents to cancer, one twenty years ago, and one ten years ago, and Burdy’s uncle nearly seven years ago, find it hard to believe we are any closer to finding a cure than we were decades ago. Many years ago, during a college class I was taking on Nutrition, the teacher asked everyone in the room to raise their hand if they personally knew anyone who had died of cancer. EVERYONE in the room raised their hand. The image of our class (more than 100 students) with their hands in the air haunts me to this day.
So, I’m a bit of a defeatist when it comes to cancer. I admit I don’t know much about its history, or how long it’s been with the human race. It seems to me a very modern disease, one made permissible only by our stressed-out, sedentary, addicted to convenience and chemicals, Western-diet lifestyle. It seems like finding a cure for cancer mandates that we find a “cure” for our modern lives.
But something happened to me this year when Victoria announced she would be walking again for her cousin Patty. Something shifted in me. The walk was no longer about raising money to find a cure for a disease that I didn’t think curable. It was about honoring someone who meant a great deal to a great friend of mine.
When I saw those women and men walk into that stadium Sunday, filling it with their excitement and their indefatigable energy, I thought, this isn’t a fundraiser; this is a ceremony to honor the dead and celebrate the living. This has nothing to do with the color pink, or the millions of dollars raised. This is a funeral march and a parade all at once.
As a culture, we don’t publicly honor our dead with pom-poms and clapping. We do it quietly and in private. It was utterly transformative to see pictures of the dead pinned to clothing, to see women’s names spelled out in glitter and held up on poster board, with the words “Mom” and “sister” and dates of birth and death next to them in a public place. This was a beautiful reminder that death is not an end, but just a transformation in the way we live with a person’s energy.
Victoria talks about her cousin all the time. She tells me while we listen to music sometimes “Patty would have loved this song”, or “Patty would be dancing on the tables with us right now!” She has taught me to redefine my relationship with death. She reminds me not to keep the memories of the dead to myself, but rather to shout them from rooftops, to proudly wear pink and endure the torture of blisters and bad weather to make sure that everyone knows that the dead are still with us in spirit.
Burdy’s father passed away this summer and it was wholly shocking and fitting all at once. He was an older man, one who’d lived a fulfilling, challenging, and long life. His death was fitting because he was nearly 90 years old, but shocking because we just took for granted that he’d be with us forever. I still feel him with us every day. He laughs from his corner of the room when we tell jokes, he prods us to hurry up and have kids already, he tells us “It’s okay” when we make mistakes. He is as alive to me as Patty is to Victoria.
So, this year, I went to the closing ceremonies of the Three Day Walk For The Cure to honor Victoria and Patty. And I cried so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. Seeing those breast cancer survivors walk in at the end was moving beyond words. I wondered about chance, and strength, and the willingness to overcome, the power of positive thought, and the randomness of death. And it made me want to don a pink tutu and be there next year to clap my hands off when they crossed the finish line.
Something came over me inside that stadium. I realized I’d been looking at this whole event through very jaded eyes. Here in front of me was the real reason people participate in this event year after year. I swear to you, I had a moment where I felt like the Grinch when he hears those Whos singing on Christmas morning. My cynical little heart grew to three times its size. I was filled with something I haven’t felt in a long time: love for perfect strangers. THAT’S the effect this thing has on people. It’s the effect it had on me, anyway.
Perfect strangers touching the lives of others, reinforcing the power of positive thinking, reminding us to revisit all that we cherish in our lives, renewing our faith in the human spirit and in the mysteries around us. That’s what this was about, wasn’t it? The money, the pink hats, the motivational music and banners… those were incidental, weren’t they? Those walkers, and all the people they represent when they walk…they dare us all on a daily basis to dream and to hope… even as we all face down the inevitability of our own mortality.
The Grinch gets it now.
-Your Future Cheering Section