A Brisk Walk in Good Company
Yesterday’s bright sunshine belied the cold temperatures along the mouth of the Merrimack River in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The few wispy clouds moved quickly across the horizon as though seeking warmer air over the Atlantic ocean, following the West Wind eastward. And groups of people dressed in winter’s warmer clothing gathered at the waterfront park to register their names and offer their donations. Those fortunate to belong to a team had as one of their layers of clothing a colorful shirt; others wore orange or white T-shirts offered by the Walk sponsors listed on the back of the shirts, hidden by the outerwear made necessary by the low temperature and 19 degree wind chill factor. Still, there were smiling eyes behind those sunglasses. For the people gathering there were enthusiastic, optimistic, and physically able to walk.
Team Terry’s motto has been “Walking to Beat the MonSter” (capitalization intentional.) And for five years, Rick and I have walked in an organized MS Walk in Massachusetts. Beginning in our late fifties, and now in our early sixties, we feel fortunate to have the health it takes, the stamina it requires, and the motivation to face the cold sunshine each Spring in this effort. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society provides staffing and recruits volunteers to register the walkers; warm up exercises to music opens the event, and the National Anthem is sung just before the walking begins. At walks in later spring and warmer weather, photo ops of a sea of orange attracts the local press. But on a cold early spring day, it is only the walkers, staffers and volunteers who brave the cold and gather for the walk. We had a small burst of light snowflakes during the walk last year, but the sun stayed in the skies, shining and warming everyone by the end of the walk. Rick and I made the full five miles again last year, but I “fell gracefully” at mile four, losing my balance for just a moment, but landing gently on someone’s still-frozen lawn. No harm done.
Team Terry was smaller this year, though larger than the first year, when Rick and I walked without a supporting team in Marblehead. “Let’s just see if we can make the five miles,” we said to each other. And so we walked, on an early April morning, from ten in the morning ’til about noon time; during those hours on the peninsula known as ‘The Neck” we and the other walkers shared our energy and admiration for the spectacular coastal views of our ocean, The Atlantic. As the temperature rose twenty degrees in those hours, from cold thirties to warmer fifties, we shed our winter coats and willingly handed them off to the volunteers following in cars for just that reason. And when we crossed the finish line, tired and sweaty and dragging our feet, holding hands to stabilize each other, we were greeted with cheers and congratulations, and pizza and cold lemonade, a harbinger of the summer to come. We’d made it, stumbling and frequently resting on the last mile. We’d made it.
The next year we decided to walk more locally, in Newburyport, and invited friends and family members to walk with us. And the year after that, and after that, the team began to increase in size, with sisters, nieces, friends of family and school friends of mine. In the fourth year, Rick and I decided to name the team formally, and order T-shirts from an online printer proclaiming the motto and showing a strong, successful image of a conquering walker. There were fifteen walkers that year, and each had a Team Terry shirt.
In this year, illnesses and other commitments conflicted with gathering for the walk, and so Terry and Rick and two sisters and their two friends walked as a team. The sisters and their friends succeeded in walking the full five miles; Rick and I, having less stamina due to less walking through the slippery winter, took the shorter 5K cutoff, but were still greeted with cheers, pizza and soft drinks none-the-less. We’d met their goal of donations, and met old and new friends at the finish line.
Last evening, following the walk, Rick and I were at a social event, a celebratory gathering of the Friends of the Library, where we relaxed with more friends, old and new, talking with other artisans and writers, illustrators and patient spouses, with light refreshments and photographs.
Rick and I are planning to walk again, in Natick, Massachusetts, mid-May. We will be a part of a larger team organized by Terry’s neurologist’s staff, and the donations for this walk will go directly to the MS Center there in Brighton, Massachusetts. The ‘Journey of Hope’ quilt that I made will be raffled or auctioned off a few days before the walk at another event in Brighton. If we can, Rick and I will be at that event, and perhaps see or meet the winner of the quilt.
… In thinking of this tradition of walking to raise money for a cause, and the exponentially increasing number of such walks and causes, I’m reminded of a few walks back in the mid to late nineties … “Step by Step” walks for cancer fund-raising, walks organized by two of our science teachers in Andover. I’m reminded of the ironic twist of fate: the diagnosis, treatment and resulting death of one of those two teachers, of cancer. I remember her enthusiasm, her energy, her optimistic belief that a cure for cancer was within our reach within our lifetime. I remember her determination, once diagnosed, to fulfill her lifelong wish to visit the Galapagos Islands. She did that, just a few months before her demise. She did it with excitement, with appreciation of nature’s diversities, and with the love of her life. I will always remember her for that, and for our shared conversations in the lunchroom, or in our classrooms at the end of the school day. When I learned that she was on the roster for outdoor bus duty that last hot week in June, I shooed her inside and stood in her stead. Heat then was already my enemy, but to think of her having to do that for what was surely her last week as a teacher …
In my last year as a teacher, a friend took all of my lunch and bus duties, shooing me back upstairs to my classroom. I will always remember his kindness in doing so, and in taking on the team leader responsibilities mid year when I told him I no longer could trust my attention, memory and energy for parent meetings and building issues. That’s what friends are for. Friends are there for the important needs in life. Walking to raise money is not high on my priority list of needs; going back to walking just with Rick, just as far as we are able to do so comfortably and safely, and walking with that appreciation of nature and of our ability to walk is more my focus now.
I will make another quilt for the MS Walk next year, but will offer it to the group in Newburyport. Or maybe I’ll instead suggest a community quilt, having each donating team make their own signature square, and having it put together to be raffled at the walk. Or maybe I’ll organize a quilting bee where several local quilters come together to make a quilt for fundraising. Time to share the work, time to share the good feelings of creating and giving for a cause.