Friday night, my wife asked me to go along with her to walk in the Wetzel County Relay for Life being held on Magnolia's track. When we arrived the area was alive with activities for those who had come out that warm evening in support of those whose lives have been touched by cancer.
If you have never taken part in the annual event, you may be surprised at the many faces that are in attendance. From the very young to those we call senior citizens were there to show their support for the great cause. I realized as I looked around the track area the amount of people whose lives are touched each year by the disease.
There were people renewing old friendships and others meeting for the first time as the sun began to set. On the evening air, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn cooking was being carried in the breeze. Hundreds and even perhaps a thousand people had gathered to spend time remembering those who cancer had taken. At the same time, others were celebrating those who have survived the second leading cause of death in our country.
What was once a word that meant no hope when a person was diagnosed with cancer; today through efforts such as Relay for Life, support systems, and medical research, the word no longer means the disease has the final word in people lives.
My dad asked, "What was the distance around the track the people were walking that evening?" I told him if I remembered correctly it was a quarter mile. That got me to thinking about that distance and how many luminaries it must have taken to encircle the track on both sides. At that moment, I came to understand the small white luminaries with people's names written on them stretched for over a total distance of a half mile. A half mile of names of people who had survived the battle with cancer and those who had been taken by the disease.
I tried walking and looking at the many names written on what seemed to be thousands of white luminaries. Many names I did not recognize, but still I realized each name belongs to a person. A person who was someone's mom or dad, brother or sister, son or daughter, or a friend. Every name on a luminary marked, "In Memory" was a person who no longer could stand up and say, "I will continue to fight this terrible disease." Alongside were other luminaries with names of survivors who still could stand and say, "I may not go quietly in the night without a fight. I will light the way one luminary at a time to show the way for hope."
As the night came on, each of the luminaries began to glow within from a tiny flame of a candle. At first, it was only a few glowing luminaries, then more and more as each was lit. Within a short time the field was ringed in circle of light and hope-hope for those who may have been lost in the darkness of cancer and those who face the uncertainty of the disease each day in the battle to win.
Last Friday night, citizens of the area came together and lit small luminaries with hopes to remember and support the fight against the disease. As the night grew dark, I looked up at the sky and could see in the heavens, the stars that had begun to show down on the field of hope and prayers. Perhaps those who cancer had taken and could not be there with us had lit their luminaries in the heavens as a way to remember those who were left behind. I believe that also may be a cruel result of the disease for those left behind to face the future alone. But events such as this can help with the pain of those left with only memories of loved ones. Through efforts such as the Relay for Life "HOPE" can live on for those who remember and share that togetherness.
I realize that each person there knows someone who cancer had touched. For myself, as I walked around the circle I saw names of those people I have known and cancer had taken or touched. I came upon names of two men I called friends. Truth was, I have not thought much about them since their deaths. I would remember when I saw one of their family members and it would remind me of those men. I somehow felt a little ashamed at that fact that it took an event such as this to remind me of those lost friends.
I worked with both of them at the plant over the years. I remembered when each man had told me of their cancer. I have never known what to say when someone tells me of such an illness. Both men were going to beat their fates. Burt Nolan was a man who spoke his mind and worked hard. He was a committeeman in the union for many years and always represented the membership with strength and dedication. He loved to fish and hunt and spend time telling of the big one that got away. Charlie Slie was a man who I always remember with a smile on his face, even when his fate was uncertain. He worked the railroad crew and had driven many a railroad spike over the years. I will always remember him with his rolled up blue hat and his smile. Both men loved their families and life, and made a difference in the people they touched along the way. Cancer took that away from us all and especially their families. As I stood in the warm evening air looking at the flicking lighted luminaries that bore the names of my friends, I once again remembered them fondly and smiled to myself and then felt sad they were no longer with us. In the future, when I look into the night sky and see a twinkling of a star, I will remember my two friends and those who cancer had touched.
The luminaries have gone dark around the track for this year, but if you go out into the night and look into the heaven you will see the light of stars in the sky. When you do, think of those who the Relay for Life is helping to remember. And for each of us, it reminds us there is still hope as long as we remember the battle goes on to defeat this disease known as cancer. Perhaps, we all can look for a little hope as we look Thru the Lens.