Thursday, September 24, 2020

October is more than pink ribbons


 The email almost slipped through the cracks of my inbox, but something in the header caught my eye. "You've been invited to attend a virtual walk for breast cancer," it said. Virtual walk, yeah, right. Everything has suddenly turned virtual it seems because of this pandemic. 

The calendar reveals we're almost at the end of September and what I knew was coming arrived a little earlier than last year. My inbox is quickly filling with breast cancer awareness messages in preparation for this October, or should I say "Pinktober?" 

Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I'd always thought of October as the month ushering in cooler weather. My family and I would enjoy all things Fall related - hay rides, trips to the mountains, visits to pumpkin farms, mugs of steamy hot cocoa filled with mini-marshmallows. October didn't remind me of breast cancer, that is, until that fateful day in 2014 when I'd heard my doctor dub me a statistic. I was one of the one in in eight diagnosed with cancer. 

My first Pinktober was fun. I embraced it wholeheartedly. I bought into the commercialism of pink ribbons and found myself enveloped in it. It felt good to sport my breast cancer hoodie. It felt like I was part of a special sorority, how naive I was back then. But lots of newbies make the same mistake. It's only natural to be all in, afterall, it makes one feel as if one belongs especially when cancer can make a person feel extremely isolated and alone. 

I'd also participated in a 5K walk for breast cancer. It had been an challenge, in more ways than one. Physically, I fought for each step forward. I'd just completed 28 rounds of radiation and that 3.1 mile walk just about did me in, but I made it and I was extremely proud of myself. 

But the next October that rolled around, I passed up the races. I wasn't as keen to buy pink ribboned products. I'd done some research and had found some organizations didn't allocate funds appropriately. More money was going toward administrative fees than toward breast cancer research and that made me angry. 

Then, I discovered a tell it like it is website called "Think Before You Pink." It presented the harsh reality behind some breast cancer campaigns and organizations. The goal of the site wasn't to demean those companies but to inform the under educated and debunk misinformation. I appreciated their devotion and found the information helpful. 

This October, the big breast cancer awareness push will still be on albeit differently. Because of the Covid 19 pandemic, many cities are opting for virtual walks. Participants can register and keep a record of miles walked then submit their total at the end of the race period to be counted toward fundraising goals. Monetary submissions can be solicited through websites. Contactless collections will help prevent the spread of disease, or so they say. 

While it would be easier to participate in a virtual walk, doing it "my way," I don't think I will and here's why. 

Instead of having friends and family sponsor the number miles I could walk, I'd rather use the money toward helping provide gift cards for meals or other well timed gifts to friends currently fighting their own cancer battles right now.

Forgive me for my negative attitude toward breast cancer walks of any kind - real or virtual. This survivor is over it. October is more than pink ribbons. 

I do appreciate the awareness "Pinktober" brings toward breast cancer but let's get real. The beribboned pink paraphernalia lines many pockets but it doesn't do much for providing new means of fighting cancer. 

Cancer is ugly and trying to tie it up with a pretty pink bow can't change that. 

Those affected by cancer want more. We want answers and we desperately want a cure. 

A virtual walk may prove to be a good thing for those wishing to participate this year. There may even be a few small cities who organize actual walks for mask laden walkers, but I won't be joining either. 

What I will choose to do is make phone calls, write letters, send texts, and make visits expressing my love and concern to those who've just learned about an uncertain future. I'll make myself available and I won't be throwing any pink ribbons around in the process. 

Call me cynical if you must, but I'd rather be truthful about a disease that continues to destroy lives. 

Pink ribbons can't change statistics, but maybe one day something will. 


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Who's behind the mask?


Saturdays are always busy days for us. Usually my husband works in the yard and I work inside the house, but today we decided to venture out on an errand. 

It was time to buy our monthly groceries. Since money is tight with only one income, we always try to be thrifty. We'd compared prices at all of the local grocery chains and big box stores finding Walmart to be the least expensive, so that's where we decided to shop even though I don't really trust buying meat there, I agreed to go. 

As we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed there were no spaces close to the front of the store. The crowded lot said it all. Many were taking advantage of this beautiful day. 

We walked from the far end of the lot toward the store, masks in hand. When we approached, we noticed blockades set up to herd people in the "right" direction. An employee sat on a little stool making sure each person who entered the store had on the proper facial attire. Those without masks were turned away. 

The sliding doors opened as we stepped on the mat outside the entrance. I kept on walking and my husband grabbed a grocery cart following quickly behind me. 

First stop was the produce department, my favorite area. Hubby always tells me I spend too much time there but I don't care. I love fresh vegetables and don't mind cooking them. 

I perused the aisles picking up plump, juicy tomatoes, sweet Vidalia onions, luscious purple eggplants, and a heap of deep green Kale. Reaching for some artisan salad on a shelf above my head, I made the clear containers tumble down. A nearby employee scrambled to get them but I'd beat him to it. Our eyes locked and I wondered who was behind the mask. 

His dark brown eyes looked kind. I apologized for upsetting his display and he didn't say a word. I watched as he restacked the packages. He seemed frustrated and ready to move on. I wondered if he'd had a hard day. 

I quickly finished in the produce department and headed toward the aisle with canned goods. Another store employee was busy scanning and stacking items. I approached and asked where I might find sun dried tomatoes. She mumbled something and started down the aisle. She wasn't upset, but in a hurry to oblige. Within a few minutes, she turned to face me packages in hand. "Here you go," she said, her bright blue eyes sparkling. Thanking her I continued on. 

Next came the dairy department. I needed some cottage cheese and some hummus. As I rounded the corner, I almost bumped into an employee pushing a large cart with stackable blue crates. I manuevered around her and grabbed my containers of cottage cheese placing them in my buggy. She was still working next to me so I turned to speak to her. 

"Are you one of the grocery pickers, the personal shoppers for online orders," I asked. She replied in the affirmative. As we talked I noticed her large, round eyes, a beautiful shade of amber. "I'd like to thank you for all your hard work," I said, explaining that I usually use the online ordering service but had decided to come into the store for items myself today. She nodded her head and I told said, "I hope you know how vitally important your job is to those of us dealing with medical issues. I don't know what I would have done without people like you who took the time to select my groceries when I was diagnosed with cancer." 

At that moment, she stopped what she was doing and stood looking into my eyes. I hoped she could tell I was smiling even though a tear was forming in the corner of my right eye. We stood like that for several minutes, just looking at each other, and then I patted her arm and said, "Really, thank you so much. Whoever you're picking for today may never thank you, but I want you to know I value you." 

The gleam in her eye let me know she was smiling beneath her mask and she'd accepted the compliment with pride. 

I knew she needed to hear a good word and it felt amazing to offer that tiny gesture of kindness to her. 

As I pushed my cart toward the deli, I glanced around the wide space in front of me. There were people from all walks of life and all of them hidden behind masks. As I looked at them, I felt sad. So many failed to make eye contact with those around them, instead choosing to ignore the fact that they were in the presence of others. 

I wanted things to be like they used to be. Last year, when I'd gone grocery shopping, I'd often strike up conversations with those I met in the aisles of the store. I could see entire facial expressions before speaking and I'd know, by body language, whether or not it was okay to approach. 

We were made for community. A little paper or cloth mask shouldn't have the power to destroy that fact but it's already done so much damage. 

Yes, there will be those who believe masks are for the best but there will also be those who believe them to be detrimental to both health and emotional well being. 

As we see more and more public venues requiring masks, will anyone pay attention to the one behind the mask? Will we take time to actually "see" each other, even if the only evidence of humanity are the eyes? 

I hope I'm not the only one wondering who's behind the mask. Every individual matters, and everyone could use an extra measure of kindness. 

The Bible says, "Be ye kind, one to another." Though no one may see your smile behind the mask, the eyes can say it all. Look at those around you. Lock eyes. See them. And in so doing, pray they'll see you, too. 

We're in this thing together. We might as well make our encounters count.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Hold on to Hope

 

 
Have you ever had a day where you felt oppressed, like a heavy cloak of despair smothering you? I have. Yesterday was that kind of day for me. 

There was nothing about the day, per se, that I could pinpoint, I just felt sad and overwhelmed. To be honest, I felt hopeless and out of control. 

As I thought about all that's going on in the world, my spirit cried out to God, "How much longer, Lord?" I wanted all this Covid junk to be over. 

This holiday weekend, my husband and I had gone out to run a few errands. As we sat outside a store and talked before going in, I watched the people entering and exiting the store. Every single one of them had on a mask. To me, it looked as if they had all been brain washed. They walked aimlessly forward, masks covering their faces, like robotic soldiers on duty. The ones exiting did the same. The only difference was most of the ones exiting the store eventually removed their masks, but not all of them did. 

My heart grieved for our country and I wondered why we'd fallen into such a state of compliance. Where had our free will gone? 

I was reminded of a story I'd heard many years ago when I taught kindergarten. The story was about a strong willed child and how he refused to sit down when asked by the teacher to do so. Over and over again, she'd asked the child to have a seat. Each time he'd fought back. Finally, after the teacher placed her hand on his shoulder and gave a strong push downward, he sat cross legged on the floor. The teacher thought she'd won the battle and spoke to the child in hushed tones. "I'm so proud of you, Johnny, for having a seat like I asked you to do," she said. Johnny, still seated on the floor, folded his arms across his chest and said, "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside." His story resounded in my mind as I opened my car door and prepared to walk toward the door to the store. 

Paper mask in place, I reached for my husband's hand as he was fastening the loop of his mask over his ear. We were wearing our masks because we weren't allowed to enter the store without them, but I wanted to scream aloud, "I may be wearing my mask on the outside of my body, but I'm not wearing it on the inside." 

I've always been a person to follow the rules, for the most part, anyway, but the mask mandate seems ridiculous. And when my husband complained about not being able to breathe well while wearing a mask, I wondered how others with health issues get past the mask mandate. 

Sure, many stores don't have a mandatory requirement for them right now, but I'm sure it's coming. 

When one freedom is removed it makes one wonder what's next. 
 
And are there others feeling as hopeless as I've been lately? I'm sure there are. 
 
I've stopped watching the news because it makes me feel anxious and unsettled. You know it's been said ignorance is bliss and sometimes, I think that statement is correct. Sometimes it's better not to know all the details of what's going on in our society, especially when there are so many hope robbers these days. 
 
I love the poem by Emily Dickinson -  

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
 
Hope. Such a small little word with such profound meaning. How do we cling to it? The only way I know is to grab hold with both hands and never let go. But the power behind those clinging fingertips must be faith, for without it, our grip will surely fail. 
 
I hold onto the fact that one day soon all of this will be over. I can't wait for the day Jesus returns. Are you ready? I hope so. 

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