A year ago, I sat in a fire hall listening to this woman named Amy talk about the American Cancer Society Relay For Life. She was energetic and fun, and well, I was looking for something. It was just a year short of Mom’s death, and I was pretty chopped up still . . .
A few months earlier, in June of 2011, Dad and I pulled together a team – Ruth Cumbo’s Crew – for a Relay in a nearby city. I started the team as a way to do something with my grief – something tangible, quantitative, with goals and dates involved. Something that put boundaries on my sadness.
We raised over $4,000 as a team, 22 of us together to remember Mom. We spent the night at the track and walked, played games, sold Dad’s walking sticks. At 10pm, we lined up for the Luminaria Ceremony and walked in silence. Dad broke apart in that darkness where everyone there knew a sliver of this pain. I sobbed audibly, able to not be strong for just those few moments. It was the start of great healing for both of us.
So when some folks started talking about doing a Relay in our home county – Fluvanna – I knew I needed to go. There was this prodding in me, this push to do more. So I went, and before the meeting was over, I volunteered to be chair. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
Now, a year later, we have the inaugural Relay For Life of Fluvanna behind us with $85,000 more to fund research and support people with this disease, and we are gearing up for year two. Our goal this year is to raise $100,000, and because these people I am honored to work with are – without a doubt – the most amazing humans, I know we will blow that figure out of the water!!
Here’s the thing, though, as much as I am thrilled with the money we raise, as much as I KNOW we will find a cure for this disease, as much as I believe in the American Cancer Society mission of finding a cure and supporting people with cancer, all cancers – being a part of this event has done more for me than I could ever give to it. Relay has healed me. It has given me purpose during a time of my life when it seemed like, truly, there might not be any. It has connected me to community during months of solitary writing and building a business. It has shown me how much joy and strength come from working for a purpose greater than myself.
See, I could have chosen to isolate myself, to just try to find my own way through, to believe that time would heal these wounds. But I know that’s not true. Isolation over time just means more isolation. We are built for community. I’m so grateful to have been prodded . . . and for the spirit of courage that came over me that night in a rural fire hall.
What Jim Wallis says is absolutely true – security comes through community and service. Relay For Life has taught me that.
So today, I ask you to get involved. Find a local Relay For Life if you are passionate about finding a cure for cancer. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Spend two hours tutoring a kid. Be a mentor. Drive through the city streets near you and give out coats for winter. Do something beyond yourself because it is isolation that kills us and maims our society. Only in community and service do we heal.
Eighteen months ago, my father and I broke apart in the candlelit dark on a high school track. It was the beginning of our healing.
What are you doing or what could you do to use your gifts and help?