Day 243
What a night! It was hot and muggy, exhilarating and emotional. New York Times writer / blogger / survivor Dana Jennings’ inspiring opening remarks whooshed us right into a  a survivor’s lap around the track at Brookdale Park at 7:15 last night which for many — myself included —  was the most meaningful part of the first Montclair Relay 4 Life evening.

Survivors walked hand-in-hand with loved ones of all ages; a team of young people carried the official Relay banner , while our strong walkers Nanci, Alex, Elaine, Toni, and Donna carried the snap-looking MyBigWalk banner that was designed and painted by Lori Loehbelson.

Toni saw a small girl checking in as a survivor receive a pair of purple wings to affix on her tiny shoulders; Dana spoke about being a “sage warriors,” who “will not let cancer define us.” The survivor walk was led by a cadre of young people including a young man with huge black plugs in each ear and a funky purple bandana on his head, and after the first lap Toni — who is in her sixth cancer-free year — grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the track with her.

As we looped the stadium fellow relayers, supporters, friends and family, stood and clapped. For fifteen minutes. I’m sure Elaine, who has successfully completed  treatment for advanced breast cancer and is gearing up for her second big trip to Europe this year, spoke for many when she said the the survivor lap was “very surreal, emotional and moving.”

The night went very fast after the opening ceremonies. Everyone on our team was in great spirits and absolutely diligent about staying on the track for their hour and more. We had three tents, deluxe air mattresses, lanterns, a beautiful white canopy courtesy of Myla’s mom — an artist who lost the battle last July and for whom Myla’s entire family came out to honor —  not to mention food galore, beautifully coordinated by Martha.

As darkness fell, the luminarias that marked our path were illuminated, and I was able to find the many candles pledged by HarperCollins folks in memory of  c0worker and rock drummer Dave Campbell. My parents, Myla’s mom, Leslie’s husband, and many others were memorialized along the way.

Before I knew it it was time for my midnight lap with Toni, followed by my own solo lap. I say solo lap, but I was never alone. Frank, who’d already walked the 9-10 lap with David, walked with me. Soon David and Ellen were out there with us, too. It was a beautiful night of camraderie, remebrance, and celebration.

I crashed at 4 in the morning, just as Leslie was going out to do her lap. When I woke, Martha and Nanci had returned with coffee, and Alex, Frank, Myla, Lori, and Martha were busy taking down the banner and tents.

In the spirit of the evening, Elaine came to collect her air mattresses at 5:30 but didn’t have the heart to wake me, and so I ‘slept in’ until 6. Thank you, Elaine! Thank you Lori, Nanci, Alex, Leslie, Toni, Myla, Ellen, David, Frank, Martha, and Jenny, too.

The relay raised $110,000 for cancer research. With $13,153 on our ledger by 4 am, MyBigWalk was by far the biggest fund-raiser for this year’s walk (see Baristanet piece). Best of all, the night was everything we’d hoped for, and more.


Day 240

I’m busy preparing for the American Cancer Society’s 12-hour overnight Relay for Life this Friday in Montclair. At this point, to be honest, the work is mostly sitting back and letting my wonderful team of 13 walkers paint our team banner and plan what to bring and what we’ll eat.

A special thanks to all MyBigWalkers who sent donations to the Relay.  You’ll be with us in spirit as we walk through the night.

Watch for pieces about each of my team walkers in the days ahead. Some are survivors, some are dedicated caregivers who are honoring loved ones, and others are remembering those who’ve lost the battle but live on in our hearts. Our reasons are complex and personal but they’re bringing us together, and community makes us stronger. That’s why we’ll be there.

Here’s a great story about the event posted yesterday on my favorite local news spot, Baristanet:

Countdown to Montclair’s Relay for Life

Montclair will host its first-ever Relay for Life on Friday, June 4, at Brookdale Park, thanks to the event’s chair, Erica Lowenthal, who took part in the Hoboken relay last year in memory of her late dad, Dr Hank Lowenthal, and decided to bring the event home.

Forty teams will be participating, and more than $73,000 has already been raised. Proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society Relay For Life – the biggest private funder of cancer research in the US.

The Relay celebrates the lives of those who have battled cancer and won, lost, or are still fighting back. Because cancer never relents, it’s an overnight event, beginning June 4 at 7:00pm and ending up to 24 hours later.

Each team has a reason, often a moving and personal one, for participating.

The leading fundraising team of My Big Walk, which has raised more than $8,500 so far, says on their page that they are “dedicated to cancer survivors Elaine Rapaport, Alex Nolan, Nanci Naegeli, Toni Martin, and Jenny Kydd.”

“Our friends have met and battled cancer. The women on our team are athletes, warriors, and ferocious fighters. We’re walking to keep the flame of the fight alive, and to light the dark night for those who are engaged in battle. Most of all, we’re walking for hope and unity.”

The entire community appears to be involved, including the Temptations of St Luke’s Church, Temple Ner Tamid, and schools such as Bradford, Hillside, Glenfield, Nishuane, MKA and Montclair High School.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life provides emotional, screening and nutritional support and advice on healthy living. It funds research towards cures for cancer – 44 researchers supported by the ACS have gone on to win the Nobel Prize – and fights back, too. The society helped bring about the smoke-free law and assists low-income, uninsured or underinsured women with treatment or screening tests.

The event will be moving, and fun, too, with plenty of entertainment organized.

If you’d like to participate, it’s not too late!

Phyllis Lowenthal, who heads the team, The Page Turners, is in charge of the survivors’ dinner and walk that begins in the evening of June 4, and may be emailed here.

Sign up here, or just help towards finding a cure by making a contribution, here.

Day 217

Mystics, saints, pilgrims, writers, and philosophers have walked through the ages. Saint Francis walked through Italy for years. Thoreau said he had to walk for hours each day to soothe himself and open his mind.

Since I began in October, My Big Walk has brought me a surprising amount of community, optimism, and happiness. How?

By helping me see what’s most important in life, and bringing me into regular contact with other people who are adventurous, spirited, and proactive.

650 miles into my year-long walk, here are few of the most important things that I’ve learned:

1. My mother-in-law is right…exercising every day is the secret to a happy life.

2. An adventurous spirit keeps you young-at-heart.

3. Never say ‘no’ because you’re afraid of looking foolish.

4.. Kindness may go unrewarded, but you only hurt yourself by becoming bitter.

5. Gratitude, generosity, and grace go hand-in-hand.

Day 205

Raphael's Angels

Every day MyBigWalk is visited by scores of people who search for “angels” or “angel pictures” on the web, and arrive here because I posted a copy of Raphael’s Angels on Day 42.

But if there are no accidents, angel-seekers, then this is where you belong:  you were meant to find MyBigWalk and join us.

It’s pretty simple: put on your walking shoes or sneakers, grab

Fra Lippi's Virgin with Two Angels

a sweatshirt, and walk for an hour a day. Smile at people you pass on the road, and invite other people to walk with you. Walking lifts your mood, improves your circulation, and burns calories. Best of all, it gets you AWAY FROM YOUR COMPUTER and out in the world….where you just might find some real angels helping the sick, feeding the hungry, or making the world a more lovely place by spreading grace, gratitude, and generosity.

p.s. Regular walkers, today is my first day back from a terrible cold that was diagnosed as “emerging pneumonia,” which seems to mean the antibiotic cleared up the cough but still left me exhausted. I missed three full days of walking (including one in the pouring rain, which I think might’ve put me in the hospital) and when I finally did go for a walk, I slept thirteen hours that night. But I’m back. And so is the sun. Hurray 🙂

Day 199

Hello Sister/Brother Walkers. Yesterday I stopped by Laurie’s place, and she served up some delicious matzoh ball soup. The Big Walker was obviously making that soup to cure herself, since she has got this nasty cold. But I was hungry , so she shared it with me. It was so (delicious and) energizing that I was moved to get out that afternoon and walk for an hour and a half. Laurie told me later that she never made it out for her walk  because of fever and fatigue from her cold (later diagnosed as pneumonia but never fear, that was also a misdiagnosis).

I told her mine was a surrogate walk, and she can count it as her own. I’m sure there are no objections from the peanut gallery. Are there?


p.s. Generosity? Or grace?

Day 194

From Middlebury, to Massachusetts, to Nicaragua…yes, I did say Nicaragua.

While I was in New England  I met up with a couple of Frank’s Middlebury College buddies and old lacrosse teammates who are taking the concept of grace and generosity in an unusual direction…and all the way to Managua, Nicaragua.

Their passion is lacrosse, and they’ve found a way to make what’s fun for them part of a mission of goodwill, generosity, and grace by bringing supplies, sports equipment, coaches, ambassadors, and money to the thousands of children who live on the garbage dumps in Nicaragua.

Yes, these children and their families make their homes in a slum on top of a garbage dump. They eat what they find there, build their homes from what they find there, and wear the clothes the salvage from the trash of a poor nation.

The Middlebury initiative is called Lacrosse the Nations — this is an international humanitarian organization that utilizes sport and play to foster education and the development of critical life skills for children living in impoverished communities worldwide.

Lacrosse the Nationsvision is to utilize the game of lacrosse and recreational activities as a platform to provide education, mentorship, hope, and opportunity to children living in impoverished communities worldwide.

They are “ambassadors of hope” in Nicaragua, using lacrosse as a means to engage, serve and uphold those in need.

THIS is generosity in action, folks. I hope we can all find a cause we believe in, support it, and build something for the future that’s bigger than ourselves.

Day 193

This is for you, LESLIE!

Yet, folks, Leslie tells me today is Happy Green Celery Day. Actually, what Leslie tells me is that about thirty years ago when she was a student at Yale a certain fellow decided that amidst all the gloom and stress of mid-terms and research papers, people needed something to celebrate. And so as the first new leaves were budding a raw and brilliant green on the trees and plants in Connecticut he stood on a corner in the middle of campus and called out, “Happy Green Celery Day” to everyone who passed.  (I’m not sure if he dressed all in green, or even in a green celery costume, but it sure seems fun to imagine him all decked out in neon stalky leaves.)

Inevitably, Leslie remembers, people looked up and smiled.

Leslie has made it a tradition in her own house to announce on a given spring morning when it looks like nobody wants to get out of bed or when the allergy season we used to affectionately call “spring fever” has got the kids down, to  proclaims it Green Celery Day, for which she gets a grudging smile from her children.

So, folks, I proclaim today Green Celery Day. I hope I get a grudging smile from you. If I do, please pass it along on your walk today (the smile, not the ‘holiday’).  Giving someone a spontaneous reason to smile is one of those moments of generosity that costs us nothing.

So SMILE. It’s a ‘green’* way to spread your good energy around.  And Happy Green Celery Day to you and yours.

* yes, I hear the groans

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