I laced up my shoes and fell into a large crowd assembling before the starting line. We were all there to run the SpeakUp 5k for the Cameron Gallagher Foundation.
I never met Cameron, and I will not detail her life here on this post, but I know of her because in the terrible days after her death at too young an age, her parents, David and Grace, did something extraordinary. Amidst their grief, they found Cameron’s plans to create a race to raise awareness that many children suffer from depression and anxiety. They built an organization to achieve Cameron’s goal, and the race we were about to run in Byrd Park was her legacy, her reminder to all of us to look for the signs, speak up, and offer help.
So, early in September, we shook out our legs, stretched our backs, and joked about how slow we would be. We sang the National Anthem. We listened as David spoke, invoking us on the count of three to shout the mantra of the race, Cameron’s philosophy, “Let’s finish this.” Many cried, others cheered, and with those parting words we put one foot out and started to run.
Along the way, a host of characters surprised and delighted us to reflect Cameron’s love of life. Volunteers sprayed us with Silly String. Bagpipers played. We ran through a tent filled with, well I don’t know what it was, but there were confetti or bubbles or streamers and dozens of people cheering us to the end. We saw quotations, originally recorded by Cameron in her journal, affirming the power to live life, to do our best, to endure with a smile.
I began with my family, but soon we spread out to run our race. For me, my best friend, a man I have known since we were 13, found me huffing along. When we were younger, he could run 3 miles in 15 minutes. When we both served in the Marines, he could do the same AND smoke a pack of cigarettes with his men. I’ve never been a strong runner, so he and I trotted our old man pace around the course. We talked as old friends do. Nearly out of breath, I tried to convince him to go ahead of me since he can run so much faster. He refused. We finished together.
I have run the SpeakUp 5k for three consecutive years, and every time, I marvel at the power of human beings engaged in a collective effort. I marvel at how so many people can gather their energy and push through to the end. I marvel at how from the ruins of tragedy, Grace and David built something that does so much good.
After I had crossed the finish line, I grabbed several cups of water and went to cheer on the rest. While I stood there clapping, a child with Down Syndrome sprinted to the end and into the arms of David Gallagher. Then, the boy ran back into the stream of runners about twenty yards, turned around, and did it again. And again, wearing a smile of only pure joy. Each time, David greeted him as if he were completing the race for the very first time.
These are the moments of cosmic time. True, we measure the seconds and minutes it takes to run the course, but we also experience an event – of starting and stopping, of running with old friends, of cheering for the happiest young boy in the park as he crossed the finish line over and over. We experience the remembrance of a young girl who departed this life too young and left her parents to keep her spirit alive by helping other people. The seconds on the clock matter not. What matters is we are there.
Several of you, my loyal readers, have been asking about where my blog posts have gone. After a hiatus, you have inspired me to keep writing. More to come, and thank you, as always, for reading.