Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors. She's funny, she's touching, she's smart and occasionally uses the f-word. Which makes her all kinds of awesome in my book. And in her books too.
Once I heard her mention her dislike of the term "writer's block" – as it implies there is something inside but it can't get out. Like constipation. That if you could just simply dislodge the block, the words, the word-pictures, the artistry on paper would flow. In reality she says the problem is not blockage … it's emptiness. It's not that the stories are trapped, it's that they are vacant. The places in your head that house prose and form delicious thoughts aren't locked down, they are dusty and abandoned. Her cure? Do something – anything – to get filled back up.
For the past few months I've been guilty of the busys … running around (sometimes quite literally – thank you Ben), flitting, landing, moving on. I've had thoughts a-plently but no drive to post them. I've been at rehearsals and dinners and meetings. I've facilitated difficult discussions, encouraged difficult decisions, listened to difficult thoughts. I've been a sounding board, a megaphone, a warm body. I've negotiated contracts, created websites, storyboarded plans for new videos and books. I've attended funerals. Officiated a wedding. Eaten more than my fair share of birthday cakes. I, like the Energizer Bunny who occasionally shares my stage, have kept going … and going … and going.
All that activity should leave a person quite full.
And yet this blog has gotten dusty. When I logged on tonight to post, I swear there was a creaking noise when the page loaded. Bats flew out of my computer and cobwebs dangled from the corner of my page. I've been incredibly busy. I've had nothing to say.
Last weekend in Boston, nearly 2000 men and women – collectively "The Pink" - walked and worked all weekend to cure breast cancer. The Susan G Komen 3 Day for the Cure series kicked off for the 7th year. I've been the national spokesperson for 3 of the past 6 seasons. This is my 4th year. I'm not known for doing the same thing over and over again. When I've worked for other people, I've rarely stayed in a single position longer than a couple of years. I have no interest in doing the same races over and over again. If I travel somewhere and have an amazing time – it only makes me want to go somewhere else next year … because it could be even MORE amazing. So the fact that I'm the spokesperson for another year – a FOURTH year – should tell you something.
Because this is my 4th year, I carry a bit of institutional knowledge. I understand how this event goes. I understand the mindset of The Pink. I know their behaviors. Things that used to surprise or effect me, don't so much anymore. Pink hair and angel wings are the norm. team names like Cup Crusaders and Nancy's Nipples are a dime a dozen. Like anything, after a while, extraordinary becomes ordinary. And that's okay. Because if you knew The Pink you'd understand even the ordinary is something amazing.
Last Friday morning at Farm Pond in Framingham, Massachusetts, as I was gearing up to give the opening speech and having just made the final selections on my wardrobe and talking briefly with a media crew, I decided to venture back to the back of the corral where we hold walkers AWAY FROMT THE STAGE until 15 minutes prior to the start of the opening ceremony. It's a risky move heading back there … Back to The Pink. Because The Pink knows the score … walkers closest to the stage will be the first out on the route. And even though the 3 Day is not a race, there are benefits to being out first – not the least of which is getting to christen a blue lagoon (a.k.a a clean porta-potty) at Pit 1. Also, The Pink has trained for months and spent lots and LOTS of time checking, re-checking and re-checking their fundraising pages to make sure they've reached their fundraising goals. They have been planning, praying, hoping and looking forward to this day. They probably didn't sleep the night before. They most likely had a 3 am wake up call. They are anxious, happy, excited, worried, overjoyed, overwhelmed and in all likeliness overtired.
And, they can see me walking toward them for a good 30 yards. And they all have the same look on their face – like they are hungry lions and I'm made of ham. All they want me to do is open that gate, let them in, get this party started.
But that's not why I'm there. I may look like (and, okay act like) I'm in charge but the truth is, I have little power. And I know the limits of my reach and one of the things I cannot CANNOT CANNOT do is open the gates. If I do, Heather will kill me. So as I walk toward The Pink licking their chops I say loudly "I'M NOT COMING TO DO WHAT YOU THINK I'M COMING TO DO … DON'T GET ALL EXCITED!"
And since it is Boston, I get this back:
"Well then why ARE you here?"
Because Boston just has a way about them.
And so I tell The Pink, "I'm here to say hi! And see how you are!" Which is like telling a hungry lion you are there to castrate him - it's not what he had in mind and frankly he's not too keen on the idea. But The Pink gives me a break … mostly because they have no choice… and The Pink and I, we begin to talk.
I see faces I know. Faces from previous years, other cities, other events. I answer questions again and again, "Yes, we're on time." "Yes, camp is in the same place as last year." "Yes, my hair is blonder." The longer I talk to them, the more they begin to take shape. The Pink dissolves and I start to see individuals. Teams. One by one they come into focus.
Men with Heart. They're hard to miss. Every member of Men With Heart wears a yellow t-shirt. Each of them carries a massive backpack filled with medical and comfort items. Some items make sense - items like bandaids and antibiotic cream, Kleenexes and hand gel. Other items you wouldn't expect to find in a man's backpack. Items like face powder and combs and tampons. But you have to understand, they aren't carrying those items for themselves, they are carrying them for the women they walk alongside. The women they don't know but love anyway. The women they've come ready to serve.
And there's George. If you've ever walked or crewed a 3 Day event in Boston, then you know George. You may not know him as George, you probably know him as "Honey, I'm Home!" George walks alone and carries a big stick. Literally. A big walking stick. When George enters camp, or any Pit Stop he greets everyone with a loud and hardy "HONEY, I'M HOME!!!" George once had 2 daughters and a wife. One of his daughters died very young. His second daughter died in 2006 and last year, he lost his wife to cancer. George walks alone, because he is alone. But you wouldn't know it. George smiles. He cheers. He laughs and talks with others. He hugs me when I approach and tells me how good it is to see me.
I talk for a few minutes with a group of women I met on the plane on the way to the event. When I boarded that plane, I knew them right away – knew they HAD to be walkers. Because they were loud. And happy. And wound tighter than a snake … they were so R E A D Y on that plane. And if they were ready then – Wednesday – when flying in, you can just guess how out of their minds they were Friday morning. They were waving and hugging and nearly vibrating. They were excited. And that kind of excitement is contagious.
We took pictures. We made jokes. We laughed and hugged and The Pink counted down the moments to the start of the event.
Eventually, the corral is opened and The Pink soars in. From backstage I can see friends from Atlanta, DC, Philly and Twin Cities pouring into the corral excited and ready.
When ceremonies begins, Ronnie takes the stage. Ronnie is the executive director of the Massachusetts affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Ronnie is exactly right. She speaks to the crowd. She tells them of her diagnosis and of her re-diagnosis a few months ago. She tells them they are walking for her this weekend and for her children whom she had to look in the eyes and say "it's back." She pumps her fist in the air and says "Together, we WILL beat this disease!" And when she is finished, she walks off-stage. And she comes to me and I hug her very gently. Because she just had surgery. And she's very tired. And although her spirit is as strong as Atlas, the world she's holding on her shoulders has weakened her body. She stays for the remainder of opening ceremonies and cheers the walkers out. Then she turns to me and says "I'm going to go home and rest" and she tells me she loves me and will see me next year. And I tell her I love her. Because I do. In that moment especially, I love everything about her.
From onstage I look out and see a group of walkers in grey t-shirts. On the front are simply the words "Team Courage". These guys, they look like football players. Athletes. They are big and brawny. They are serious. During opening ceremonies, they are so reflective. I can see it. All over their faces. Those knitted brows and folded arms stay with me. They are so very intense. And I can't help but wonder – why are you here Team Courage? How did this disease affect you? Did it take your moms? Has it attacked your sisters? Are you walking to support a buddy, a friend? And I know, dressed in grey and black they are just as much of The Pink as the teams in pink boas and tutus.
I see sisters with arms linked and friends wiping tears from their friend's cheeks. I see Pink Angels and Wild Women and Team Ta Tas. I watch as survivors cheer for fellow survivors and men openly weep for their wives and daughters clutch their mother's hands. I see pictures on shirts with the telling span of dates July 27, 1964 – January 5, 2010. I see pain, and joy, and sorrow. I see memories flood a face and sons bite their lips so they won't sob and teeth set in determination to do something – anything. And across The Pink, I see hope. Hope for the future, for what's to come.
Among tears, I see optimism
Alongside sorrow I see joy
Standing hand in hand with anger, I see faith
It's all right there. Present in The Pink.
For the past months I've been busy. I've been active. I've been meeting the demands of a hectic schedule. My calendar, my world and my head have been very full. But my words have been silent.
Friday morning I left Farm Pond in Framingham Massachusetts feeling as though I could write forever.
Thank you, Boston. I had no idea how empty I was.