Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Self-made Promises

The other morning, I visited my local drive-up coffee hut. It’s a tiny little one-room shack, reminding me - and those of us old enough to recall them - of a Fotomat booth. There’s just enough space inside for an espresso machine, a fridge and the nice man, Scott, who appears at the window with a bright smile each time I arrive. This morning, he came to the window, already tamping the espresso for my latte. He smiled and said, “skim latte, right?” I smiled my agreement and he went about preparing my coffee. I sat back in my car and reveled in the warm feeling of being recognized.

When someone greets us with a smile, and a “Your usual?” it makes us feel important, right? That acknowledgement and recognition makes us feel special. The reality is that all it means is that I drink the same thing all the time, I go to the same place often enough, and the guy that works there is good at his job. But there is another reality. I revel in the feeling of being known. Of course, the fact that Scott knows how I like my coffee doesn’t really mean that he knows me, but it does trigger that feeling. And I have come to learn that, for me, being known is deeply valued thing. I think it is for all of us.
I first came to a place of feeling known during my first 3Day Walk in Boston in 2001.

During the year leading up to my first 3Day Walk, I was facing some big questions about who I was and how I was living in the world. One of the things I was realizing was that I didn’t like the way I felt about myself. I had begun to come to a recognition that I often felt as though I was more separate from others than I wished. I had started to notice that there were many times that I would feel that all around me were people connecting with one another while I stood outside the circle, wishing I was inside the circle, but equally sure that those people inside the circle didn’t even know I was there. I knew I didn’t want my life to keep feeling that way, and I became determined to change it.

During the months of training for my first 3Day, I began to think about ways that I could make even more meaning of the event for myself. And so, I made myself a promise to be outgoing and have confidence that the people I was meeting were going to be interested in knowing me. It was an important self-promise, the words in my head were “whoever you meet will be as interested in meeting you as you are in meeting them.” This wasn’t really how I saw myself in the world, but it was how I wanted to be. It scared me a bit to try and be this person. But I also knew that I really did believe that I was interesting. I really believed that I had interesting things to say. But at the same time, I wasn’t very good at trusting that anyone would really be all that interested in listening to me. But that was who I wanted to be. And so I made myself that promise. I figured that it was just three days, and I could do anything for 3Days. It’s funny, I was more frightened about living up to that promise than I was about walking 60 miles.

And so, for 3 days, I met people – and really the world – believing in myself and believing that people wanted to know me. I listened intently to each person that I met. I responded to those people with intention. I spoke up, I shared stories about myself and about my life, and I rejoiced in becoming known. Those 3 days were the start of a gigantic journey. I journeyed 60 miles on foot and a lifetime in my heart. What I discovered was that I can be known. I can be the person I wanted to be. I don’t have to be outside of any circles.

And here’s the big lesson in all this. Maybe you are preparing right now for your first 3Day Walk. Maybe you are preparing for your tenth. Maybe you are a dedicated 3Day Crew member. Maybe you are a 3Day supporter, or maybe you are just curious. It doesn’t matter, really. What matters is this: in life, you must consider who you are and who you hope to be. And then go out and become that person. The 3Day is the ideal community within which to do this, because the people on the event are all committed to a brighter world. But really, the opportunities to reach your own goals exist everywhere in our lives. Whether it is The 3day, or simply the next three days of your life – whichever it is, you can make yourself any promise you need to. You deserve to be the person you dream of being. We all do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Every Minute Counts

Last night, I decided it was time to write a new fundraising letter. Each year, I write a few different letters, depending on how I’m approaching our fundraising. It’s important to change it up, and after 10 years, that sometimes gets difficult. After all, how many different ways are there to say, “Please help”?

For inspiration for my new letter, I decided to review the facts sheet that the Komen folks sent to me when I agreed to be an “online ambassador”. One fact I hadn’t seen before reached out and hit me in the face.

>> A person dies from breast cancer every 68 seconds. <<

68 seconds?! Every minute another person dies from breast cancer.

In the ten minutes that it took to brew my coffee this morning, someone’s daughter died. A young man lost his only sister. A husband held his dying partner’s hand. An older woman had to tell her granddaughter that mommy wasn’t coming home. A woman said goodbye to her brother forever. A man died quietly, ashamed of his body. A single mother died wondering who would care for her children. A woman with no family died alone in a sterile hospital room. A family gathered around their matriarch to say goodbye. Somebody’s best friend died. All that loss while I waited for my coffee.
This litany of loss could be devastatingly depressing. But it doesn’t have to be. Instead, I choose to use it to inspire me to be stronger in my training and more intentional in my fundraising. Every minute that I am walking in The 3Day Walk, I am saving lives and supporting people who are living with breast cancer. By raising money with my footsteps, my minutes are counting in this battle. I am waging war by using my feet, and engaging the hearts – and wallets – of my family and friends.

Walking at full speed, it would take me about 950 minutes to walk 60 miles. The 60 miles of The 3Day will actually take a lot longer than that because I need to stop and stretch and eat snacks and visit those beautiful porta-potties. So, it will take me around 1500 minutes of walking. And in those 1500 minutes, all across the world, 1500 more people will die from breast cancer. But in those same 1500 minutes, the money that my feet helped to raise will help to change the face of the disease.

I have raised at least $3000 each of the years that I have walked, so each minute that I walk is worth two more dollars towards the cause. Two dollars might not sound like much but those dollars really do add up. Each minute that I walk, I will be walking with thousands of other people, so my dollars are matched by all those other dollars.

Just last year alone, our minutes were part of $93 million in grants offered to 1900 community organizations. In 2009, our minutes helped 3.9 million people to receive breast cancer education materials. Our minutes helped more than 260,000 women to receive a potentially life-saving mammogram. Our minutes helped approximately 5,000 people to be diagnosed with breast cancer who otherwise may not have been diagnosed, and our minutes helped more than 100,000 women to benefit from treatment assistance.

My minutes, multiplied by the thousands of 3Day Walkers and Crew in fifteen cities this year, will lead the fight to change the statistics and transform the litany of loss to a celebration of hope.

Another person dies from breast cancer every minute? That may be true, but it is also true that every minute, there are also thousands of us all across the world, walking towards a different future. We all get to decide which minutes of our lives to make count. Make your minutes count.

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's Just a Walk

What keeps you going when life throws a challenge in your path? Some days, the challenge is small, like an alarm clock that didn’t sound or a lunchbox strap that breaks just as you walk out the door. Other days, the challenge is daunting, like the phone call from your best friend telling you that her marriage is ending, or learning that your friend has just found out that breast cancer has returned after 10 years. No matter what it is you face, it’s important to have a way to manage in challenging times.

A mantra gleaned from my first 3Day keeps me going when life’s challenges get tough.

My first 3Day Walk was in Boston in 2001. I was walking to honor a brave friend. Mary Kaye was enduring chemo, surgery and radiation - all within one short year after she had lost her husband to pancreatic cancer. Every few weeks, I was driving the four hours to south Jersey to hold Mary Kaye’s hands and help care for her kids during and following her treatments. I helped by sweeping her floors and holding what was left of her hair away from her face while she vomited. I offered rides to her kids and worked to distract them from their fears and confusion. I sat with Mar and watched movies and read books aloud. Generally speaking, I did whatever I could to be a friend.

Meanwhile, I was training my body and raising money. I was feeling well prepared for my first event. I had trained to the specific parameters of the training guidelines. I had walked at least twenty or thirty miles every week. I had walked the requisite back-to-back training walk a few weeks before the event. I was physically ready for this walk.

So there I was on the first day of my first event, and over the course of that first 20-mile day, my left knee - despite miles and miles of training - became inflamed. By the end of the day, I wondered whether I would be able to finish all three days. I spent the evening nursing my knee and visiting the Medical Tent. With the help of a gifted Physical Therapist, and plenty of pain medication, I was able to get up and walk the next day.

Not long into that second day, the swelling in my knee returned, and along with the inflammation came a jarring pain with each step that I took. I really felt like giving in and giving up. And then I turned to the woman I was walking with and said, “It’s not really that bad. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. It’s just a walk.”

That day on the Walk, I was ready to give up. Then I thought of Mar (and all those other fighters and survivors) who didn't have the choice to just give in. Those words came into my head and became a mantra that kept me walking to complete all sixty miles. Those words and that memory have nurtured me since in all my tough times.

"It’s just a walk."

It isn’t chemo. It isn’t losing your hair or losing parts of your body. It isn’t looking at the fear of loss in your childrens' eyes.

It’s just a walk.

It isn’t sleepless nights wondering whether to try chemo or radiation or surgery. It isn’t spending day after day thankful just to be able to get out of bed. It isn’t worrying about who will care for your kids if you don’t make it.

It’s just a walk.

Those words, “it’s just a walk,” have carried me through some of the biggest and most frightening challenges in life. I am reminded that we each carry within us the strength to do more than we think we can. And I am reminded that whatever we are challenged to do, we can definitely do it. Whatever it is isn’t really as scary or as difficult as we think it is. In so many ways, it’s just walk.

So whatever it is - get up, get out there and face it. Just start with the first step. Once you get started, it’s really just a walk.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lessons from Driving School

My daughter is almost 16 and has started taking classes at driving school. In our home state of Massachusetts, that means that she is attending 30 hours of classroom instruction, and that I, as her parent, was required to attend a parents’ driving class.
The instructor taught us something this week that was a revelation to me as a driver as well as offering me an insight into my life.

“When you are approaching a stop sign,” she asked, “where are you looking?”

Along with most of the other parents in the room, I thought about it and my answer was that I would be looking at the stop sign. The instructor smiled knowingly and demonstrated her thoughts on the subject. Standing at the front of the class, with her hands extended in front of her as though driving an invisible car, she processed across the front of the room, and as she approached her imaginary stop sign, she swung her head carefully to both the right and left. Of course! I thought, as I approach the stop sign, I am looking at the traffic to the right and left that may be approaching the same intersection. Light bulbs started popping all over the room as we all recognized this shared habit.

Immediately, I acknowledged what she was doing as something that I do myself. And I’m willing to bet that you are recognizing it in yourself as well. So far, every experienced driver that I have asked to think about it has recognized that s/he does this same thing. And I have noticed this week that even when I come to a complete stop, I still have approached the intersection by looking ahead to the left and right.

So here’s the question: if you are planning to stop at that sign, why do you need to know what is happening in the crossroad? Why does it matter? After all, you are going to stop and then look to the right and left before actually proceeding, aren’t you?

That answer is pretty clear. We are not actually going to stop unless we “have to”. The plan, at a subconscious level, is to roll through that stop sign if it looks safe to do so. The plan is to keep moving and get on to the next part of the drive as quickly as possible.

That’s where the revelation kicked in for me. The light bulb in the classroom recognizing this unsafe and unnecessary driving habit was definitely bright. But the big burst came to me when we were out for our walk this evening and I was telling Matt about my driving class revelation. We were discussing it and I said those words, “The plan is to keep moving and get onto the next part…” As I said that, I stopped walking for a second as the realization hit me as to how often in life we are doing exactly that. So many times, we are so busy looking ahead to the next crossroad of our day or our life that we don’t even see the intersection where we are.

Walking in, and crewing for, The 3Day Walks has helped me to move away from this unhealthy way of living my life. 60 miles is a lot of miles. And the only way to get through all of those miles is one step at a time. I have learned a lot about slowing down and living life one step at a time. On the 3Days of the event itself, I really do manage to be living that way. And I try very hard to live the other days of my life this way as well.

I take my time with the walk. It’s important to me to talk to lots of different people along the way, and I have met some truly inspiring people by stopping and paying attention to exactly where I am. Along the way on the 3Days, I've met people who have stayed in my life for years, including the man to whom I am now married. I've met people walking for themselves and people walking for their mother or sister. I have met a male breast cancer survivor who taught me so much about strength and passion that I had to take deep breaths to absorb the joy he felt for life. I've met people too shy to tell me their story but whose presence next to me has provided me with strength and motivation. I have met people who make me laugh and people who make me cry. If I had been walking too quickly through my 3 Days, I might have missed all those people.

Walking and crewing is an incredible opportunity to see and enjoy some of the most interesting sites. I have seen the 'Love Fountain' died bright pink and I have seen a family of immigrants weeping by the gates of a cemetery. I have seen boats in as many colors as flowers and flowers in as many colors as the rainbow. I have learned to look up and see the corner where I am standing before I take the next step. If I move too quickly, I have no idea what I might miss seeing, so I'd best slow down.

I try to remember to always look around at exactly where I am. After all, if I am worrying about what is coming next, I might miss three sweet little girls standing on the corner dressed head-to-toe in pink. By glancing ahead to the next turn in the road, I could so easily miss the sign those girls are holding up: “Our mom is our hero”. I’d hate to miss that.

Life really does move too fast. Before we know it, the baby who was just learning to walk is getting into her own car. If I don’t treat every day and every mile as if it is one of my precious 3 days, life will slip me by. I don’t need to look past the stop sign to see what is next. I really can pay attention to the moment I am in.

The next time that you are driving, pay attention to how you approach an intersection. And more importantly, once you get out of that car and walk into your day, pay attention to how you approach the intersections of your life. Remember, it is okay to stop and see exactly where you are before you need to look ahead to what is next. If we can do it on the walk, we can do it every day of our lives.