If you have kids in high school, or a family member with cancer, you may be familiar with the American Cancer Society fundraiser, Relay for Life. I was only vaguely aware of it because my nephew had been hitting me up for a donation for the past few years. Now I’m an expert because this year my daughter participated. I not only donated to the cause, I chaperoned the 6 p.m. to midnight shift.
The event, you see, is an overnight affair. It takes place on the track behind the high school. Teams pay to participate, raise money, and then put up tents and canopies, bring food and sleeping bags, and spend the night circling the track, hanging with their friends and generally entertaining themselves as only teenagers can.
This year, it rained. And it rained, and it rained, and it rained. I was prepared, but miserable.
The first lap around the track was reserved for the cancer survivors who attended the event. Everyone else filled the field of turf in the center, clapping as the survivors passed by. I was surprised to see familiar faces walking the track. For the next lap, the survivors were joined by their caregivers, and again we watched and applauded. Then everyone else flowed onto the track and the laps began in earnest – for a while. The organizers intended to have at least two members of each team walking at all times, but in fact it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter; the money’s been raised.
The kids were undeterred by the relentless downpour. They began the evening with their hoods up and their slickers zipped. Before long, however, they shed their outerwear, and many their shoes, deciding that it was easier to be wet than try to stay dry. Out came the soccer balls, the field hockey sticks and the volleyballs. The turf inside the track was full of bodies playing, slipping, sliding and laughing, while around the track, people walked, alone or in pairs or clusters.
For the first hour, I stood dutifully, holding my umbrella. Then I retired to what I hoped was a dry folding chair under our canopy. It was not, but with some creative draping I managed to keep my rear end relatively dry.
After cowering under the canopy for a time, I was coaxed out for the "luminaria" service. Each team member held an inactivated glow stick. The organizer talked about how many people had been lost to cancer and how much we all wanted to cure it, etc., and then instructed the assembled to crack (thereby lighting) their glow sticks. Next, the emcee invited all those who had lost a parent to cancer to walk to a tall, translucent bag hanging on a frame, and drop in their glow stick.
I was shocked at how many kids flowed up to the bag. And how many more walked up for siblings, grandparents, other family members and friends. Teenagers all around were dabbing their eyes, hugging each other, and crying; gone for the moment was the need to act too cool for emotions. It was all laid bare, and it was terribly moving.
I hated being there in the rain. I couldn’t wait for midnight so I could go home. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.