Last night I attended a “black-tie optional” American Cancer Society Gala fundraiser as a guest of a friend. I was a bit out of my league – I had to buy a dress and heels and Neil had to buy a suit. We’d never been to anything like it and we had fun. Just before dinner, the obligatory, “this-is-why-you-should-give” speeches began. My friend was one of the speakers and surprised me by talking about my sudden diagnosis and what it has taken to overcome the side effects of treatment.
Next to speak was the gorgeous, platinum blonde I’d noticed earlier because she looked like she could be part of my “tribe”. She was about my age, with kids who were teens when she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. She spoke of her fear and loneliness as a single woman facing a difficult battle and how she met a volunteer and survivor at the hospital Cancer Resource Center who changed her life. The volunteer gave her a hug, listened to her fears, taught her to tie a head scarf and told her the story of his daughter, also a breast cancer survivor.
Of course I knew it was you, Dad.
My eyes welled with tears, and I had to do that girly dab-eyes-fan-yourself thingy so I didn’t ruin my make-up.
I felt deep love and pride as I listened to this person I’d never met talk about how much you meant to her because you so generously shared yourself. I was in awe that she had been inspired by my story – a story I didn’t know you had shared, though of course it was okay. I was profoundly moved that because you were you and I was me, we had changed someone’s life. Two years later, she still remembers your kindness and maintains a friendship with you. Two years later, she remains inspired by my struggles and successes even though we’d never met.
Making a difference is not just about donating money or buying stuff at an auction, although that is important. The most important thing we can ever give to anyone is compassion and time.
Dad, I know that you gave so much of yourself as a volunteer that you burned out and had to leave your volunteer job to take care of yourself. But, I wanted you to know that even though it wasn’t always easy for you to support those men and women who were scared and suffering, the fact you did, mattered immensely to them. And to me.
I am incredibly proud of you.
I know sometimes we don’t know that what we do matters. But I have found that every connection has potential to change lives. Every time we pause in our busyness to give to someone else, the ripples flow out in ways we cannot know. We never know what a smile, a hug, or a quiet talk does for someone. Sharing yourself, your story and mostly just being there, can give much-needed hope and courage. Sometimes it means that a woman who has lost a breast can look in the mirror knowing she is not alone in her fear. Sometimes you will find out, years later, that just because you were you, it made a difference. I hope that everyone has the chance, like me, to hug a stranger who calls you hero even though you just met.
You are my hero Dad. God knows, that hasn’t always been the case, but last night I have never been more proud to have you as my father.
I love you,