On September 11th, a group of us held a fundraising road race, pig roast, and auction to help some very special people. Sarah is fighting cancer with everything she's got, and as anyone who's ever had a major medical event knows, there are lots of expenses to treatment that insurance just doesn't cover. She's a firefighter and her brothers at the Portsmouth Firefighters Charitable Association have been amazing...I mean, beyond words amazing. The work that they've done to make Sarah and her family more comfortable is humbling and inspiring, and on days that I feel like I'm losing my faith in humanity, I just click on the link to their home page and know that there is hope in this world.
I opened this unfinished post today out of sheer curiosity and was pleasantly surprised to find that perhaps I'd done it more justice than I thought. In any event, here's what happened on a sunny day this past September...
Do you all know the story of William Wordsworth's poem "Daffodils"? William and his sister Dorothy were out taking a walk one day in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park when they stumbled upon a swath of daffodils that Dorothy later described as stretching along the shore as wide as a country lane. For his part, William (who it is believed suffered from crippling bouts of depression) was so tickled by the sight of the cheerful yellow flowers that he penned what would become one of his most famous poems--maybe one of the most popular poems ever.
Me, I'm not one for the poetry-writing. I've tried my hand at it and I've written some really lousy stuff..."crapola" is what Mr. Loomer would call it, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with him. Prose is generally my milieu, though sadly, just when I've got thoughts that I want to share with the world, I'm finding words inadequate. Isn't that always the way, though?
Just describing the events of the day isn't enough, but it's a jumping off point and I'll use it.
To say that the event started at 10:00 on Saturday is a lie. The event started sometime in the early spring when an idea was hatched. It was only a spark of an idea--but yes, I'd go so far as to call it a Divine spark. Traci had a thought come into her head: we should hold a road race to help raise money for Sarah and the Fox family. We could call it the Fox Trot. She told two friends and they told two friends and ideas were pitched and bandied about. As summer drew near, we sat on the Ennis' deck and honed the ideas into a workable plan. Jobs were assigned and help was recruited. Even at that first meeting, there was a sense of excitement and a feeling that we could really do this. It could really happen.
The summer came, kids were out of school, and plans continued. We had developed a firm event plan. The Fox Family Fund was officially established and the Inaugural Fox Trot had become a three-part event: a 6K road race, a pig roast, and a fund raising auction. We obtained corporate sponsors and sought donations from anyone we thought might be inclined to give, we signed up volunteers for everything from manning water stations, cooking and serving the meal, and setting up tents. And we sold tickets. Lots and lots of tickets.
Last Sunday, the weekend before the event, we had one last group meeting to see where we were and tie up those last minute loose ends. We had 70 runners pre-registered, which was 10 more than our original goal. We had at that point sold 170 tickets to the barbecue with money still rolling in and creeping closer to our goal of 200 tickets. And we crossed our fingers and hoped for good weather.
We all woke pretty early on Saturday, I'm guessing. I had assigned myself to the food portion since running isn't my thing, nor is calling people and asking for stuff. But I do have 7 years of restaurant experience and my secret desire is to be a school lunch lady, and I figured my presence at the coleslaw station couldn't hurt matters. You know what they say, "Never trust a skinny cook."
I got there at 10 and hit the ground running. Not literally, but the runners actually did. I've never been to a road race before, and it was cool to see the runners milling around and talking, pinning their bibs on and loosening up with some stretches. I would have loved to mingle, but food service for 200 doesn't set itself up.
We set up the tables and decorated them with a random assortment of tablecloths. One of our friends came in with two big vases of flowers that he and his wife had cut from his garden the night before, just to dress things up, and I gave them a place of honor on the buffet. I look at them and don't think "Hm, pretty flowers." I look at them and see a simple gift, but a profound one. It says, "I looked at the flowers in my garden and I thought of you." Can flowers do that? Wordsworth sure thought so.
I took a short break in the setting up to watch the runners take their marks and head off up the gravel road. Like I said, I don't run unless something is chasing me, and even then I'm inclined to take my chances or play dead if I have to. But so many of the runners that came back across the finish line remarked how great it was to run past the Caswell's and have them standing in their driveway cheering them on, and getting support and water from the Belmont Middle School Junior Honor Society kids along the route.
Robin reported that she knew she was getting close to the finish when she turned the last corner because she could smell the smokehouse before she could see it, and by the time the last walkers crossed the finish line all you could smell was roast pig and barbecued chicken. I'm quite sure that by noontime the smell had permeated all of Canterbury.
The race went off without a hitch, and by 1:30 the meat was done and we were ready to serve. The line stretched all the way down the driveway and despite having a cooler full of food, we were still a little worried that supplies wouldn't hold out. But hold they did. The only thing we ran short of was cornbread, and that's really only because we had put a pan in the oven to warm it and forgot it for a bit. We found it right at the end, so the people that worked the food line got to have cornbread after all. Did I mention the apple crisp? Steve and I shoveled it out while Robin and Rachel hit them with whipped cream, spraying two-fisted at times. When all was said and done, we think we fed over 200 people and possibly close to 25o with last minute sales.
I got to see the face of every person there that day because they all had to come past me for coleslaw. With my apron and plastic gloves I was greeted with smile after smile. I didn't realize the effect that would have on my soul. Two hundred people smiled at me and with me. I could see the joy in their heart and later I realized that it was reflected back on me, magnified and concentrated and coursing through me.
I can't really describe the feeling, but everyone I've talked to that was there knows exactly what I'm talking about. Joy seems like such a small word for a big emotion. If I could fill up a giant mixing kettle with joy, and then add in heaping scoops of fellowship and community, that gets closer. Love was added by the bucketful, but the great thing about love is that you can add all you like and it never overflows the container. The poignancy of Sarah sitting in her chair in a shady spot watching the runners come in, unable to even walk the course because of pain added the salt to the mix. But anyone who cooks knows that adding salt adds flavor to whatever you're making. You even put it in baked goods because it complements the sweetness, so acknowledging the fragility of our existence sweetened the day because it served as a reminder that to serve one another is our greatest duty, even as it's our greatest gift.
After lunch was served and folks settled in for the auction, my own little napless boy decided that he'd hit the wall and could not be consoled, so I packed him in the car and took him for a ride in the hope that he'd conk out, grab a few winks, and awake refreshed and ready to play some more.
As I drove up the winding country roads, I was struck again at the perfection of the day. The sky was a brilliant blue with not a cloud in sight and the air was crisp and just a bit cool, especially in the shade. I drove and drove with my sleeping baby in the back and let the feeling that had been growing and developing at the Fox Trot really take root and percolate around.
I knew that what I'd been a part of back at the smokehouse was making everything about a ride through town--a ride I've taken thousands of times in my life--come into sharp relief. From the sight of a couple walking hand in hand down Shaker Road taking in the fresh air and afternoon sunshine to a flock of teenage turkeys crossing the road in no particular hurry right in the middle of Baptist Hill Road, I was noticing things that I might have just gone by without much of a second thought on any other day.
I drove back into the field and parked the car, and as Dave and I walked hand in hand through the sweet grass of the freshly mown field, the sound of a crowd sharing a laugh came from the auction tent and it added another layer to the feelings of the day. I took another all too brief minute to look around and really notice the people. These were the people I went to school with and their spouses and kids and siblings and parents. They were folks from around town and around the area who thought that a pig roast sounded like good fun for a good cause.
Not to get off on a tangent or anything, but a couple of weeks ago I was bothered by some comments made on an online forum where I like to hang out. People who had hated school and couldn't wait to get away from their hometowns made some comments about the folks they left behind.
"You are so much cooler than those losers who still hang on to their junior high best friends - was that when they peaked?"
"The way I see it is that all of these people are still living in the same city that we all grew up in. The farthest they left was to go to University in the same state. They lead lives that are just like their parents, and many of them even still live in the same neighborhood."
"When I think of all the a-holes I knew in school: I revel in knowing that I grew up, left town, have a real life, and am not still in a small town, trying desperately to pretend high-school never-ended. My horizons got bigger, their lives got smaller."
"Moving on means moving."
"High school is awful, isn't it? Decades later, and it's still awful. Ugh."
I feel bad for them. Honestly. There were friends there that I made back when were were still in diapers, and even more that I've collected along the way. If you don't know how good it feels to describe someone with the words, "We've been friends for 35 years," I feel bad for you too.
I have roots here, and they are deep and wide. (That's Sistah and Shake. Friends for 39 years and counting...)
That's as far as I got with my original post before abandoning it for awhile. Maybe I found it now because I needed to see it. Maybe during the dark, cold days of Advent I needed to be reminded of the Christmas miracle. Not trees and lights, not presents and parties, but being awake and ready, "for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of man will come."
Of course we're not supposed to stay awake 24 hours a day. That would be stupid. We're supposed to have an inner alertness and an inner light that allows us to see what we have and count our blessings. It keeps us open to God's presence and lets us get really good at seeing the light in every situation, rather than always standing and shaking a fist at the darkness. It's why we light Advent candles, after all: to dispel the darkness. And it's why Wordsworth, in a funk, would lie on his couch and think about spring flowers. They gave him hope.
I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.