Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cathedral Couture and the Parade of Smite (or Might?)

So we limped into church on Sunday, September 16th, at the chapel of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, PA. Well, I limped. My girls bopped, my son sort of wandered in after my husband. My knee hurt more than I knew a knee could. I still haven’t figured out what I did to it (aside from running 13.1 miles, ALWAYS a bad idea), it still hurts ominously when I move too fast or in the wrong kind of way.

Anyway, we got into church just this side of late (my girls and I squeezed around the priest who was waiting for the entrance hymn to begin—the boys were actually late), and got ourselves situated.

Normally we see some other folks who have just run the ½ marathon. How can we tell? Obviously because of their extreme fitness and glamour…

yeah, you know it's glamour. I never knew glamour had a stench. Bleh.

…ok, no, it’s because they are all wearing the t-shirt from the race. Hubby and I had ours on, a lovely blue with a patriotic kind of vibe going on. My girls had their NF Endurance NEON yellow support team t-shirts. Firstborn sported his ubiquitous baseball sweatshirt.

I had my race day/hospital bag as my purse, the one with the FOUR GIGANTIC PINS ON IT. One for G, one for R, one for September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and one that says I wear Gray for my Daughter. We were like an awareness parade.

(And yes, this is a DIFFERENT bag arrangement than the one I agonized over a few months ago. We got this bag at Camp Sunshine, and it just works great as a hospital bag. Soooo glad I spent all that time agonizing. Urp).

Why is this even worth telling? Well, nobody else there was from the race. Everyone else looked like they were going to Sunday 12:30 Mass in a massive cathedral chapel where you might just run into the Archbishop. I wish we had, I use his book in my senior history class…although I would have limped into him, there was NO MORE RUNNING happening again ever. Anyway, everyone looked way fancy. Three rows in front of us sat an extended family there for a baptism in the actual cathedral after church (favorite Mass distraction? Baby in baptism gorgeousness being admired by rows full of extended family). Oh, the fanciness! Think suits, dresses, nicer than business casual kind of clothing.


I felt a little self-conscious, normally I don’t on race days (the 13.1 is wildly empowering on that front; heck, I almost wore my medal to church), but I realized we were WAaaaay underdressed. Ergh. The dad in the row behind us seriously had on a suit, and his kids and wife were equally impeccably dressed. At our church at home people come in all kinds of garb, from grungy to Gucci, but this cathedral couture was intimidating me.

I just felt schlumpy. And my knee hurt so badly, I wasn’t even kneeling right.

Yes, Catholic guilt has its own life force sometimes.
It's an impressive building.

Mass was not terribly long (I feel awful saying this, but phew, my knee REALLY hurt and we kind of desperately needed to eat massive quantities of food STAT), and as we were leaving, the suit-clad gentleman behind me leaned over and put his hand on my shoulder.

“God bless you and your family,” he said, with such an expression of compassion it almost took my breath away.

I thanked him, and told him I appreciated that (and then went to make sure G didn’t knock over any of the baptism family)…

It was kind of a moment.

Like I said, I realize we looked like an awareness parade, I should not have been surprised that he drew some conclusions from the portrait of smite (or might?) we presented. But somehow, somehow it just filled my heart to think of that gentleman sitting behind us…seeing us in our race wear, my girls with G-foRce! painted on their shirts, and that bag that proclaims our story…and what he must have thought in that moment…

NOT that we were underdressed for church, but that we could use a blessing.


This makes no sense. I embrace that. I know it doesn’t. But I still find it surreal, 8 years in, to think that we are a family that has our kind of story. I am pretty open with our story, I beg shamelessly for help for research, I kvetch about chemo traffic and sing the praise of my mighty warrior child who has a lot of attitude about cleaning up her room. But I am open through the computer. In person…I skew a little scary, a little bit like our smite might be contagious. A little bit WOUND TOO TIGHT? Well, maybe not THAT. Ahem.

Somehow in typing our story I can give myself a little distance, a little control. This unscripted moment of compassion , brought about by the visual my family presented…

I don’t know. It just made my heart feel kind of full, and sad, and grateful, too, for the kindness of so many people.  And it sort of smacked home the REASON I run...because of the real marathon we are in , the one measured not in miles and fartleks (what a dumb word) but in rounds and relapse. 

Because my G has hair, normally strangers don’t know her story. I can’t overstate what hair means for a family mid-chemo. Hair means anonymity. It means we can pretend. This moment in the church, this moment of kindness, this moment where someone knew our secret and then took the time to offer a simple word of solidarity…

This was a MOMENT for me.

September is childhood cancer awareness month. So many of our friends are working tirelessly to foster awareness. Awareness = interest = research=hope . I just find it’s so much easier to foster cyber awareness than actual awareness in person.

And yet I’m glad. I’m glad that we could present a ridiculously underdressed, limping, sleepy (my R was so trying to doze during church) version of Pediatric Oncology 101. In real life, this IS what a brain tumor battle can look like, even if that still strikes me as ridiculously surreal. Childhood cancer (or aggressive low grade tumors, as in our case) doesn’t have a dress code.

But the battle against it sure merits a medal.