It's a day that means something different to everyone; whether a survivor, someone who was there in support of a loved one or in memory of one who has passed on, one of the multitudes of people handing out water or encouraging words, those who slept in, or even those of you who turn the channel because you're sick of being inundated with yet another reminder of the Komen Race For The Cure, we all had a purpose this morning.
Whether you choose to be in it or not, one has to admit that it is an imposing sight to see nearly forty thousand people walking en masse, merely colored dots of humanity as far as the eye could see. It makes my imagination work overtime to think that you could fit all of these people, seemingly so spread out, into the seats at Busch Stadium.
It's a day that I normally walk alone; thinking of my mother and those women who mean the most to me, soaking in the sights and sounds, and by immersing myself in this sea of people all brought together for one purpose. It's a day I normally choose to use to reflect.
Yet today was different than in years past. First of all, I nearly had myself talked out of going. It was raining when I woke up, I didn't feel my best, and getting there was going to be a hassle. But then my mind hit upon the first best lesson of the day -- realizing that I was going to an event to show my support for those who have endured far worse than I was dealing with, and that short of being caught in a bear trap or being held at gunpoint, there was no reason for me to not go. And after thinking that thought, getting from bed to shower to out the door was an easy progression.
Then came the ride on Metrolink. The first thing that struck me was the sea of color already forming as people got on at each stop towards downtown -- the shirts from varying companies and groups participating in the event -- each with their own inspiration but all with the same thought in mind. And as the stream from Metrolink emptied itself into the ocean of the gathering thousands, downtown St. Louis was becoming a Jackson Pollock painting all of its own.
And then I made my way towards the starting line -- again, my typical mission was to walk amidst the masses, music from my headphones keeping me distant and alone in my thoughts. But then I ran into a couple of friends; Terri Krueger, KSDK's own inspirational example of strength and survival, and Tony Villasana, who has dealt with his own sense of loss thanks to this insidious disease. To call Tony merely a friend and former co-worker is to sell the man far short; those that know him are fortunate and know exactly what I'm talking about, and those that don't know him...should.
Anyway, I deviated from my plan of the past and walked with my two friends. It was a welcome break from the usual.
As we caught up with what's going on in each other's lives, I was struck that much was the same as last year, or the year before that, except for the music that normally courses out of my headphones and through my brain. The multitudes made their way along the course with purpose, from canines on leashes, newborns in strollers and toddlers on shoulders, to those people in the winter of their lives, determined to push on at their own pace, even with the aid of canes. The colors of the shirts were vibrant, the sayings on them pithy and profound. The names of inspiration written down and then worn on people's backs were many, and in some cases anonymously labeled as "My Mom", or "My Wife", "My Sister", "My Best Friend", or "My Girlfriend". And while the purpose was strong, the mood was light; happy, and what you would expect at a family gathering. For many, that five kilometers would be the only five kilometers they would cover until next year, but that didn't deter a single step. And those that needed water or encouragement, there were those people there more than willing to provide either or both. And the music blaring out of speakers, whether recordings or live bands, was upbeat: "Sweet Caroline" (Oh oh oh), "We Are Family", "Dancing In the Streets". Even the siren, smoky smell of Pappy's Barbeque as we walked past, though tempting and a little unfair, didn't keep us walkers from our appointed task. It was like a mobile party.
And it was at some point along the way that I was hit with my second most important lesson of the day: that this is not a day to be alone, even if your thoughts are noble. Komen Day is support, a tribute and a celebration all rolled into one. And it is thousands of people, each with maybe a different story but yet coming together for one purpose: to bring the day in which breast cancer is obliterated from this earth maybe just one walk closer.
I've come to feel as if cancer thrives in isolation. It produces feelings of "Why me?", lonely struggles from initial shock and fear, through tiresome stretches of surgery and recovery, of chemotherapy and/or radiation, of endurance and hope, all on a path to eventual peace, whether on this planet or in the afterlife. Cancer wants us with that feeling of isolation; if it can get the struggle down to a one-on-one battle, it will likely win. But with the love and support of others willing to be on that journey, one can be inspired to have a feeling of outnumbering cancer, and while it may eventually win, it won't win.
What, you might ask, do I mean?? To borrow from the late Jim Valvano, cancer can take the body, but it cannot touch the mind, the heart or the soul. And it is the love and caring of others that feeds the mind, the heart, and the soul.
Thus, being in the midst of good friends, and in a mass of purposeful people today was a veritable feast.
As I crossed the finish line, I thought of those special people that mean so much to me, whether with me or not, such as the case may be. I thought of what a good feeling it was to finish this course as we press on to endure to finish the much larger course that is life. It is not as good a feeling as the one we will all surely have when the threat of breast cancer is no more, but it is a good feeling nonetheless. And for those who put together this undertaking, with hearts so full of giving and love, a thank you. For Terri and Tony, thanks for letting me take in the day with you.
And may God bless each and every survivor, and to those who make the struggle and the journey with them. May we all be together again next year.
Until next time....