Thursday, November 4, 2010

Light the Night...Part 2

The sun set over my beloved city in a warm glow of gold. The evening air is crisp. This is October, after all. The low hum of activity we heard when we first arrived an hour ago had now crescendoed to a full buzz of talking, laughing and sharing among thousands of participants, all in harmony with the current top 40 hits blaring from the stage, courtesy of my favourite radio station.

I am here at a fundraiser being held on an island, right in the middle of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Montreal. I am here because my daughter wanted to come. Her classmate was suddenly diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year. He is 10.  The kids’ teachers from last year initiated a team to fundraise and walk in solidarity and support of a cure for young Matthew and others. So, here we are, at the Light the Night Walk for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. Why “light the night”? This is a night-time 5km walk, held in the fall, in major cities all across Canada. The walk is illuminated by balloons that each participant carry, specially prepared with lights that twinkle and shine.

What an evening!  In just over 2 weeks, the team put together by the teachers called, MJ’s Fans, had fundraised over $18,000 for leukemia research. We were told that not only was the team the fastest in raising so much money, it was also the biggest team walking that night, 59-members strong.

After a child-friendly meal of pizza, hotdogs, baby carrots, brownies and apples, and some fun at the inflatable play area as well as some face painting, we were welcomed by the organizers of the walk on an island that also hosts the Montreal Formula One Grand Prix. They introduced Montreal’s “Hero” for 2010 – a beautiful young lady called Alyssa. Her team, Alyssa’s Crew, had the tent right next to ours. I do not recall her speech apart from her introduction which went a little like this, “Hi everyone! My name is Alyssa and I’m a 19 year student at Concordia University. I have been in remission from leukemia for 8 years and it is thanks to you, all of you (she waved her hand across the entire park where we were gathered). Thank you for aiding in the process of finding a cure for something that affected me and still affect so many around the world”….

I seriously do not remember what else she said. The lump in my throat stuck for a few minutes. My sight became blurred with tears. My heart swelled with the absolute knowledge that my daughter and I were here, not just for a simple walk around the park. We were here to make a difference. Yes, the amount raised by just the two of us was relatively small but MJ’s Fans’ banner said, “Together we have the power to heal”….and I believe in the power of togetherness. And together, we brought the cure 18,000 small steps closer to a reality.

Back to the walk. The kids were animated with excitement. They carried their banner for Matthew with much gusto. Every time a cameraman stepped in front of them for a picture or video, out would come, “Cheese!” or “We love you Matthew!!!!” ....sweet....

We left our meeting place after a rousing send-off and very quickly it became obvious how special this night-time walk was. For much of the walk, the only light came from the thousands of illuminated balloons we carried. There were RED balloons for teams like ours, walking in SUPPORT of someone currently battling leukemia. There were WHITE balloons for walkers who were SURVIVORS of this disease. Last but not least, there were GOLD balloons, for people walking in MEMORY of loved ones lost.

Soon, we came to a 1-kilometre stretch where luminaries (little candle lanterns made from small paper bags) lined the entire walkway. Each one had a name on it. The volunteer at the beginning of this kilometer requested we walk silently. Immediately, the upbeat chatter abated to almost total silence in a show of respect. Even the children understood this serious and solemn stretch of walk. All you could hear was the quiet shuffle of footsteps.

Each luminary  represented someone lost to the leukemia or lymphoma this year. Towards the end of this kilometer, I saw two people in a tight embrace and as I passed them, I heard them sobbing softly. It was my second, big reminder of the reason I was walking. We were walking to help fund research to find a cure for a disease that took away lives of loved ones.

As we continued walking, the buoyant, optimistic mood returned. The kids oohed and aahed at various lookout points where we could see Montreal at night. There was huffing and puffing the last kilometer as we began to recognize the way back to the meeting place. We could hear the band playing again. We crossed the finish line to thunderous applause as volunteers clapped and whooped and hollered to celebrate our success.

Wow … what an evening!  My daughter learned so much in one night about caring enough to make a difference. Much more than a textbook read over a whole year could ever teach. The children and their enthusiasm to do this walk for their friend affirmed my belief that you can never be to young to make a difference. Those who think children are ineffective fundraisers due to their age are somewhat small-minded, I think, without vision. By the way, MJ’s Fans are now listed as one of the top 10 fundraising teams across Canada for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Sometimes, we adults need to stop complaining and lamenting about everything that is wrong in this world. We need to just start doing something to make a difference. If we do not know how to do that, perhaps we need to look at our kids every now and then. It also helps to remember, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Best line I heard that night….one of the teachers who organized the team said, “Next year, Matthew will lead the team as we walk. He will hold his WHITE balloon”….

I needed a Kleenex then....what about you?

PS - if you'd like to take the walk with us, click on the link to our digital scrapbook below. Enjoy. Be inspired.