The Stacey Report

June 29, 2006: the Long-awaited Report on the Relay for Life

Posted in Uncategorized by ohthatdeb on June 29, 2006

Usually, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life is an outdoor event here in beautiful Sudbury, MA. It’s held on the track at Lincoln/Sudbury High School, with bands, raffle stands, and information booths on the outside, and because the Relay is an all-night event, tents and sleeping bags in the center. The event starts with a survivors lap, a procession of people in purple t-shirts (only survivors get to wear purple) behind a banner, very moving. Then the Relay begins, and for the next 12 hours the track is full. In the dark, the luminaria line the track and guide the walkers, who can no longer see but can sense the other walkers across the track, everyone marking time and distance until the sunrise.

Sigh.

This year, it rained, and the event was held indoors. I’m sure that this must have been done before; this event has been going on here for years. But this is the first year it has been held since the High School was rebuilt (yep, paying taxes for that, sure am) and that may have had something to do with the resulting… well. Here’s the story.

We arrived at the high school a little late, and the opening ceremonies had already begun. We walked into the foyer of the brandy-new gym and came face to face with the back of a crowd listening to a fife and drum corps. (We gotta do the fife and drum thing here in Upper Right Corner, USA.) Then there was a brief but indecipherable speech: the sound system was barely adequate, and the crowd was pretty unruly (although nothing compared to the way it would be later.) The fife and drum corps marched out, bearing down on us, swinging a left just before the front door, walking down the hall toward Gym II.

I will pause here to describe the High School’s new gym: it is utterly massive, a system of tile-floored hallways connecting not two, not three, but four gymnasiums. (or should that be gymnasia?) There are your classic pull-out bleachers, “Girls” and “Boys” rooms, trophy cases, the works. The foyer is basically a wide part of the hallway system, large enough to allow for between-class re-combobulating, but not much bigger.

Ok, got it? Right, here we go.

So here come the fifes and the drums (in full-on Minuteman regalia, mind you. One of the fifers was a woman, by the way, very serious and Yankee-looking with a medium-length, medium-brown bob and no makeup.) After them, here come the Survivors behind their banner, led by V-Squad Team Leader Jackie (yay, Jackie!), looking lovely as ever. Behind the Survivors, the relayers shuffled into line and began to walk down the hall toward… another hall, where we turned a corner onto… another hall, after which we turned the corner into… the foyer again.

Now, this brandy-new gym must have an indoor track somewhere, but they sure weren’t telling us where, and it swiftly became clear to me that, yes indeed, we were going to be walking around and around the hallways instead of on a track. I got the feeling that the last-minute move indoors because of the rain had wapsed up a whole lot of things… this was confirmed when, at about the third lap around, on risers set up three inches from my right ear, an extremely loud high-school band began to play. Each time we turned that last corner, we were blown ever-so-slightly off course by the thrumming vibrations, and when I asked the t-shirt lady what the deal was, she said that they were supposed to set up in another room but this was the only place that had enough outlets.

But, you know, what can one say: I was definitely among the old fogies at this event, the majority of the relayers being high-school students, and good for them, right? They were the ones running the show, apparently, and although many of them were motivated by the prospect of staying overnight with the others of them who were motivated by the prospect of staying overnight, a whole lot of them were absolutely serious and dedicated to raising as much money as possible for cancer research. Of course, this did not mean that any of them were averse to indulging in a very entertaining, hormone-fueled giggle-fest, which is exactly what ensued.

By 9:00 or so, I began to get the feeling that I was the only person actually walking the track, although this sensation was probably due to the lack of visibility. It’s one thing to walk and walk while you can see others walking and walking, it’s quite another to walk and walk through high-school halls, on and on, feeling like you’re in one of those stress dreams where you forgot your homework and you can’t find your classroom and you’ve never even been to class and the exam is tomorrow… you get the picture.

I began to think about why people are motivated to participate in events like this — what is it, exactly, that I am accomplishing by walking around in the new gym hallways? I mean, frankly, I could have asked all you nice people for money and not even gone to the thing. As far as you know, I could be making all this up!

(Stick with me here, kids.)

I thought, the reason you actually go, and run the run, or walk the walk, or pole-vault the… whatever, the reason you go is to have the experience of doing something so that you can feel a little better about not really being able to do anything. You go because everyone else goes, and you all get to have an uplifting, inspiring experience because you’re spitting into the wind together. You go, looking forward to the feeling of gathering with other people who are plain old pissed off at cancer and doing something to fight it, and when such a simple plan suddenly goes all to hell, you know, it’s just flat out disappointing.

I mean… it’s sort of like when you’re going about your business, raising your children, doing your work, planting your garden, looking forward to things that are really not too much to ask, and then all of a sudden something drops out of the sky and screws everything up, something like… jeez, I don’t know, like getting cancer or something.

Oh.

(Right.)

(Still with me?)

And suddenly everything turned sideways, and I found myself looking at a whole different slice of the pie, my friends. When we gathered in Gym I for the luminaria ceremony, suddenly this mob of giddy teenagers and bemused parents became a silent line of witnesses, walking past name after name after name. Among the many others, I saw five or six luminaria in a row, all written in the same hand — how many people had this one woman lost? There were curlique messages to grandmothers, multi-signature encouragements to friends, one stick-figure drawing that just said “I love you, Daddy.” All of these names were people, with plans, dammit, all shot to sugar-honey-ice-tea because of some stupid haywire cells.

But imagining all the families with holes punched through where their mothers and sisters and grandmothers had been wasn’t what really got to me. What really got to me was watching these rowdy, hormone-addled, flat-out irritating kids go silent in the face of life’s dirty little secret: people don’t always get what they deserve.

So. I didn’t stay all night (but Lyle did). I wasn’t patient, I wasn’t understanding, and I made some pretty snide remarks. It was really hot and uncomfortable, and really, really loud, and it was not, despite all the wonderful walkers, uplifting. At all.

So next year I’m going again.

One Response

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  1. Anonymous said, on June 30, 2006 at 7:17 am

    Hm. Maybe it would have been worth it to have held it outside anyway, weather notwithstanding…?

    Thanks for the (highly entertaining) report, Deb.

    (giggle)

    Mike H


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