In Mark’s Gospel today, we read: “…if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” When I was growing up, my mother used to say to me and my seven siblings: “Always stay connected to one another. Your sisters and brothers are your best friends. Don’t let anyone or anything ever divide you.” As I grew into adulthood and understood the importance of her message, I passed her message on to my own children. When I read today’s Gospel, I began to reflect upon the countless ways I have received love and support from my family over the years and one story in particular emerged.
It had been a year and a half since my last chemotherapy treatment. My life was starting to get back on track and I was moving forward from the struggles of breast cancer. My sister Jeannie called one day and said: “One of my friends is helping to organize the Race for the Cure which takes place in a couple of months. Let’s walk and celebrate your recovery! Breast cancer survivors wear pink shirts and caps and everyone else wears white.” I flinched. I didn’t want to think about cancer anymore. I wanted to focus on my life as a wife, young mother and parish minister. I didn’t want to wear a pink cap. I made some type of excuse and thought the discussion had ended.
A week or two later, another sister called me and extended the same invitation. I expressed my gratitude for her care and began my little speech, intending to decline. Then she said the words that caught my heart: “If you won’t do it for yourself, please do it for us. We (referring to my sisters) want to wear your name on our shirts and walk with you because you are a survivor. We are proud of you and want to celebrate your recovery.” After a long, long pause I reluctantly said: “Okay, but only if all of you will be there.” “No problem!” she replied.
The day of the race, my five sisters and I showed up at Jeannie’s home and she was holding our shirts. She handed me my bright pink shirt and cap. I didn’t want to be the one wearing pink. I wanted to blend in with the white shirts and walk in the race for others who were battling cancer. I didn’t want to remember those days when I was extremely sick from chemotherapy and the countless hours which I spent in doctors’ offices. I wanted to move on. I wanted to keep running away from it.
I slowly put on my designated shirt and cap and we headed to the race. When we pulled up, the guard at the parking lot looked into the car and spotted my shirt. He shouted: “V.I.P. parking here!” And we were directed into a prime parking spot. I felt a little lump in my throat. I also began to recognize the sensitivity and care that was being extended to me by both my sisters and the facilitators of the event. “Maybe I should open myself to this,” was the thought which drifted through my mind. Was God nudging me too?
Before the race was to begin, the organizers announced that there would be a group photograph taken of all of the survivors. I held back. I didn’t want to be in that picture. My sisters gently but firmly pushed me into the surging pink crowd and one of the other survivors put her arm around me. We walked to the outdoor stage and lined up. There were several hundred survivors and as I looked at their faces I began to feel something shifting inside of myself. These women were laughing and hugging one another. I wasn’t alone. I was part of something much bigger than myself. I did belong here. We were survivors.
I looked out at the spectators watching us as we were photographed. My sisters stood in the front of the crowd side by side. All of them were weeping, looking at me as I stood in the sea of pink. They had their arms and hands raised in a sign of victory. My tears began to flow as well. I felt pride, relief, love and kinship. I was a survivor and those of us in pink were being encouraged to be proud of it. That day my sisters helped me claim and celebrate something that I would never have done by myself and I will be forever grateful to them.
My mother’s words of wisdom long ago reflect today’s Gospel words of Saint Mark. Let us pray today in thanksgiving for our strong relationships. Let us also be mindful of any relationships which may be struggling. Perhaps a family member or friend could benefit from hearing from us. Send a note, or give them a hug. And if they invite you to wear a pink cap, you just might want to go for it!