Tuesday, January 12, 2016

We Made It

It's a cold day out, but the sun is bright and the sky is clear. By noon, most of us have exhausted our coats and hats and gloves; a few are even warm enough to have stripped down to short-sleeved shirts. 

I'm standing on the bright green grass, just slightly right of centerfield, shielding my eyes from the sun and working hard to absorb all of the magic around me. I hold tight to my children and we yell and shout and whoop it up as we watch the runners cross the finish line. We clang bells and shake pom-pons and congratulate everyone by name as they end the race exhausted yet exhilarated.

I don't run. I've never had an interest, and I'm more than happy to sit back and watch others inflict upon themselves the dual-edged sword of pain and pride that running a marathon seems to bring. However, this isn't just any marathon. On this day, at this finish line, I'm surrounded by friends and family and as the runners pour in, my husband and close friends are among them.
We all wear red shirts bearing the name and logo of my son. On the back is the St. Jude emblem - the reason we are all gathered here today.

Four years ago, I was oblivious to the kinds of things that can cause a family to create a catchphrase, a logo, a team shirt, or one of those ridiculous plastic bracelets that ostensibly raises awareness for everything from coughing to cancer.

But that's who we are now - we are loud and proud and don't care who knows it. Team Reidstrong has officially gathered for the St. Jude Marathon. 

We all wear bright red shirts with REIDSTRONG emblazoned over a quasi-corny Super R logo and a few of us are even wearing our plastic bracelets. Almost forty of us have traveled to Memphis, but even in such strong numbers, there are still so many who could not make it this year. So many without whom our team would not exist.

The day has been so emotional already. Every one of us has shed tears and likewise we have each laughed with delight. Most of us have commingled the two in that glorious yet overwhelming emotion where joy meets anguish. 

Several of us walked the 5K earlier in the day and others have just finished the half marathon. We cry and laugh some more as we anxiously await the rest of the team who is pounding 26.2 miles of pavement in the name of my son.

The man himself is decked out in his eponymous shirt and wearing a cape to boot. He runs wild on the baseball field, greeting strangers with hugs and more than once, form-tackling runners as they collapse on the ground to rest and stretch. As he darts to and fro, his cape flails out from behind him, the attached sign garnering smiles and attention from everyone he meets:


How did we get here?, I wonder - in my head at times and aloud to my friends at others. Three years ago to the day, my little boy was being prepped to head into open heart surgery. Two years prior, he was inpatient at St. Jude, readying for a second round of grueling chemo. 

I look at my friends and my family - I see among them the strength, optimism and courage that they carried on my behalf when I was stuck in the depths of despair. In those days of Cancer, when I feared for the life of my child and the wellbeing of my family, when I simply had no power of my own, they gave me theirs. They fed me and listened to me and cried with me. They tucked me into bed when I did not have the ability to go on. These people standing here in these red shirts worked tirelessly to take my mind off the reality of our situation and as I look at them, I see that they knew all along we would reach this day - even when I wasn't so sure. 

Together these friends and family members raised over $31,200 for the children of St. Jude. Children for whom this very morning we cried - those who have won their battle, the many who are still fighting, and the countless who so bravely lost the war. In everyone standing around me, I see a spark of understanding at what this day truly means. What it means to see a small, helpless child battle a disease that shows no mercy to those it seeks to destroy. 

So many generous people donated money to our team, which went directly to the hospital that saved Reid's life - some have never even met him in person, but were genuinely affected by his battle. 

Still others are at home wearing their Reidstrong shirts as a show of support. They are sending pictures and texts and leaving us messages. Everyone involved in this day is rallying around us with a love so fierce, we can tangibly feel it in Tennessee. 

We're told that in order to make a difference, we don't have to save the world - quite the opposite. Change is supposedly made one person at a time, one word at at time, one moment in time. As I stand here on this field surrounded by the people I love - in both body and spirit - I can say that no truer notion exists.

Each loving word, each cent donated, each smile, and each prayer has indelibly changed us for the better. 

I stand at the finish line and hold my little girl up so she can see - she is the loudest cheerleader in our group and the person whose mere existence first cracked open my heart. We scream louder as we see her daddy approach. I have loved this man since the moment I met him. I couldn't have known it then, but I must have had an inkling that he would be a devoted husband and father - the kind of guy who steadies others amidst a storm and runs marathons for the people he loves. 

As he approaches the Finish Line, he grabs our little boy. At only three, Reid is a beacon of love and light and courage. He has a catchphrase, a logo, a team shirt and a bracelet, but they are not cheesy at all. They are mementos of a battle fought and won - reminders that darkness can lead to light. Everyone here wears them on his behalf - a way to envelop our family in love and show gratitude for the life that he is able to live.

As I stand here in the sun, holding my girl and watching my boys run toward me, I am at a loss for words other than the two that run on repeat in my head. Words for St. Jude, for those who donated, for our friends and family. 

Words for my husband, my daughter, my son, and most especially for God up above:


We made it. Together.

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