Thoughts on days like today can change your life: and they should. When someone dies, there are countless family, religious and cultural traditions that descend upon the community of those acquainted with the deceased. There are layouts, visitations, memorial services, funerals, burials and numerous other ways the general population is afforded the opportunity to bid farewell to that person. Typically, they take place within the span of one week. I’ve come to coin this as the, “Memorial Week.” We are currently in one such week. On Sunday, March 24, 2013, one of our Honorary Teammates became one of our Eternal Teammates. Keep hope for the battle is not yet over.
There are instances in every life where one is aware that what’s unfolding before them is a once in a lifetime opportunity. These instances of clarity are few and far between. When one is aware this is occurring, it is truly a gift because one is able to take full advantage of the opportunity. One is able to soak in each and every detail. One can step back from the water’s edge in order to really see what’s beneath the surface. I had one such instance on Runner’s Weekend this year. This instance affected my entire Hope Express weekend and, as such, is where my recap must begin.
As you may or may not know, Runner’s Weekend for the Hope Express occurs one month before the event. The team comes together to get to know each other and engage in an evaluation run. After the run on Saturday, the team has some work to do for the weekend of the event. Peppered throughout the weekend are precious moments of true humanity. Hank is a genius at seeking these out and spotlighting them at just the perfect time to achieve full and everlasting inspiration. This year’s Runner’s Weekend would not let me down.
As the team was practicing the stage entrance for the night of the event, a man arrived and waited quietly on the front porch while the team and Hank worked in the yard. I recognized his face, but couldn’t place him. He carried a peace rarely seen in a world rushing to and from everything. His face wore hard times, his eyes held sorrow, but his smile was genuine and true. He walked with a gentle dignity: the unassuming kind like a World War II Prisoner of War Survivor. You know the kind. The walk that says, “I’ve been through the worst hell you could imagine, but you’re never gonna hear me complain about it. Instead, I’ll tell you what I learned from it.” That’s what he was about to do. When Hank introduced him to the team, I almost lost it. I thought I knew this man’s story prior to this moment. Listening to his journey showed me how wrong I was.
The time this man spent with us created an experience too rare and precious to cheapen with heavy-handed words. Suffice it to say, for those who were not there and may not understand, JoePa would be happy, for Mr. Sidler, “Made an impact.”
After he spoke, Mr. Sidler, Hank, Mr. McCauley (Hope Express Alum and Four Diamonds Dad), Mrs. McCauley, Tom (current Hope Express Runner and Four Diamonds Dad) and I stood in a circle. This was it. I was standing in a place I felt I didn’t belong. I was standing with true, war-torn soldiers. These parents were drafted into a war the moment they heard the words, “It’s cancer.” For some, the battle has changed. For all, the battle has changed them. I don’t know what I’ve done in my life to deserve such an amazing honor, but I was provided the opportunity to witness these true heroes of the battlefield. I listened to the stories of the small, quiet incursions and the hydrogen bomb drops these families endured. I could listen. I could empathize. But looking into their eyes, I knew I didn’t understand. Sure I’d stepped my toe onto the battlefield of cancer with my Dad, my Pop and My Gram, but it was nothing compared to the Antietam-like devastation these brave few encountered. (FYI: The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest battle in American history, with about 23,000 casualties in one day.) Maybe I didn’t understand, but I was given a real gift that day. I was given the chance to come as close to understanding as a human can without being a comrade in arms. I looked into their eyes, saw and heard their pain and felt their determination to prevent anyone from ever again joining their ranks.
So what do you do with that? I was instantly reminded of a film called We Were Soldiers: specifically, a short exchange in that film. It’s about a unit in Vietnam fighting in a place called The Valley of Death. The exchange is toward the end of the film between Joe Galloway, reporter, and Lt. Col./Col. Hal Moore. By the way, Joe was the only civilian awarded a Bronze Star during Vietnam for his selfless dedication to the safety of the troops he was reporting on. Well, here it is:
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: Glad you made it, son. Joe Galloway: Thank you, Sir, you too.
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: [after a short pause] I’ll never forgive myself.
Joe Galloway: For what, Sir?
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: That my men – that my men died and I didn’t.
Joe Galloway: Sir, I don’t – I don’t know how to tell this story.
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: Well, you got to Joe. You tell the American people what these men did here. You tell them how my troopers died.
Joe Galloway: Yes, Sir.
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore: Thank you.
Lt. Colonel Hal Moore asks Joe to be a witness for his men. I was watching these parents, this band of brothers, this battalion of true bravery be witness for their children and fellow fighters. They were witnesses for the children who were able to walk off the field of battle hand-in-hand and Mr. Sidler was a witness for the child he carried off.
So that’s what I can do: I can be a witness, too. I don’t have children, yet. When I do, I may be drafted into the same war as the amazing parents and children I see everyday at Ronald McDonald House, the same war as the Angus family, the McCauley family, the Potter family, the Hayes family, the Sidler family, the Pantalone family and countless others. I may be fighting with my child along the same enemy lines. I hope that day never comes, but on that Runner’s Weekend, I promised myself I’d be one Hell of a witness for the real warriors, every day.
Fast forward: Hope Express Weekend. I’ve noticed this year, there have been fewer recaps with individual shout-outs. My first year as a runner, I wasn’t particularly fond of them; however, from the perspective of someone behind the scenes, there are things I wanted to share with each of you witnesses. Each of you, who by tying your shoe laces and putting one foot in front of the other for 135 and 140, became witnesses for all those fighting grizzly battles every day. Please know it is a true honor, for me, to know each of you. Joe Galloway wasn’t a soldier, but he fought alongside them, protected them, aided them and was a witness for them off the battlefield. His valor was awarded with a medal. All I can give you are my words.
Maegan Capuano – “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Your quiet efforts were heroic. You did your job and ran your legs with swift feet and true spirit. You were a leader with grace.
Mary Kate Decoursey – “True, I am young, but for souls nobly born, valor doesn’t await the passing of years.” – Pierre Corneille – Your youthful spirit is nothing if not valiant. Thank you for your kindness.
Jo Lynne Harenza – “Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it till the test comes.” – Napoleon – You literally and metaphorically ran into the test. You dared to put yourself into that test and showed real gritty valor while passing.
Rachel Guth – “Dare to do your duty always; this is the height of true valor.” – Charles Simmons – I know I don’t need to talk to you about duty; but, know you exemplified dedication to duty by putting your application in a second time for the Hope Express.
Matt Huber – “True valor, on virtue founded strong, meets all events alike.” – David Mallet – You were steady and strong on every leg of your run. Your dedication to the Hope Express makes you a valiant addition to the family.
Amanda Kohler – “Valor is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” – C. S. Lewis – Thank you for your positive attitude and infectious smile all weekend. Through the toughest tests, you remained cool and calm.
Kelsey Richardson – “Aspire to be a hero than merely appear one.” – Baltasar Gracian – Your actions show that you do what it takes to BE a hero and not just look like one.
Caroline Pember – “I see you’re not hiding behind your high walls. Valiant of you.” – Agamemnon – Your genuine and true self shines in every moment. I appreciated your honesty, transparency and generosity of self throughout the event.
Greg Smith – “Valor grows by daring, fear by holding back.” – Publilius Syrus – Thank you for daring every step of the Hope Express and growing your valor every day.
Alex Toner – “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” – Norman Schwarzkopf – Thanks for going to battle with this team this year. You supported each team member like a general.
Lauren Wilke – “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” – Emerson – With all your endurance experience, it wasn’t going to be difficult for you to be a hero on this team. You’re five minutes braver more often than most.
Cynthia Young – “Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.” – Bob Riley – You’re true inner hero was revealed that weekend. It was an honor to watch you rise to the occasion.
Jodie Potter – “Perfect valor is to behave, without witness, as one would act were all the world watching.” – Rochefoucauld – I still find it hard to breathe when I think of you running up Blue Mountain. To my last days, I’ll be thankful I was afforded the opportunity to watch you fight that battle.
Ashley Kane – “Valor consists in the power of self-recovery.” – Emerson – Your determination to push through, and recover from, all obstacles, both the ones on the road, the ones on your body and the ones in your mind made you a tenacious teammate.
Tom Hayes – “A hero is somebody who is selfless, who is generous in spirit, who just tries to give back as much as possible and help people. A hero to me is someone who saves people and who really deeply cares.” – Debi Mazar – Thank you for the honor of running alongside one of the most gracious, selfless genuine soldiers I’ve met in this war.
Courtney Hughes – “The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right…” – Joss Whedon – From what I understand, you just kept digging and digging and digging. Way to go.
Jess Burns – “It is not what we read, but what we remember that makes us learned. It is not what we intend but what we do that makes us useful. And, it is not a few faint wishes but a lifelong struggle that makes us valiant.” – Henry Ward Beecher – Your struggle through pain was astonishing and I’m so thankful you are a part of this team.
Khayla Shearer – “Nothing is given to man on earth – struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible – the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he had chosen.” – Andrew Bernstein – Every time I see you, you show your values through your performance. Amazing job.
Anthony Calvano – “The ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts. An immense difference.” – Henry Miller – You act in a way that will make your daughter proud to call you, “Dad.” I tell you that from the perspective of someone who doesn’t get to call mine that anymore.
Ryan Shakely – “Vow to be valiant, Resolve to be radiant, Determine to be dynamic, Strive to be sincere, Aspire to be attuned.” – William Arthur Ward – You do all these things with a delightfully quiet grace. You lead by example.
Maria Paredes Fernandez – “Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.” – Michel de Montaigne – The courage in your soul makes you an amazing witness for the warriors on that battlefield and your dedication makes you true. You’re pretty fast, too.
Mark Willard – “Real valor consists not in being insensible to danger; but in being prompt to confront and disarm it.” Look at you stepping up from alternate to runner with poise. (FYI: JoePa liked to use that word.)
Brian Ghigiarelli – “Not every flying hero had a cape.” – Michael Jordan – Your “do whatever needs to be done” spirit and positive attitude make you more of a heroic character than any caped crusader.
Lauren Masi – “The valor that struggles is better than the weakness that endures.” – Georg Hegel – Your struggle through broken bones to make that journey was a true valiant effort.
And for all involved with Hope Express Weekend:
“Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Chester W. Nimitz
Let us be witnesses,
BECAUSE WE CAN.