This year, 2010 was my first year taking part in Relay For Life of Second Life after having been fully discharged from hospital care. As such, I had decided this needed to be celebrated in a special way. In part 1, I told you about receiving my “real life” Survivor’s shirt and how that made me feel. Now, here in part 2, I’d like to let you know about how I felt at the end of my Relay weekend.
Saturday July 17th dawned to the soft sounds of birds and the raucous cries of neighbour-fed seagulls. Dull and overcast, it promised to rain before the day cruised into night and for once, I didn’t care. I was, in 3 hours time heading out to take part in not only my first “real” Relay For Life, but one that was marking almost a full year of no hospital appointments.
I can’t say I miss that 15 minute car ride, the traipse from parking lot to front door or the sights, sounds or smells that never seem to change within those hospital boundaries. No-one in their right mind would miss it. Funnily enough, the only thing I will miss is the charity second-hand book store, where good books could be collected for mere pennies and the knowledge that with their purchase, some good would come about.
Driving to the Plymouth RFL which was held at Brickfields Recreation Ground instilled within me a feeling of apprehension. A mix of both good and bad feelings since the only experience I had with Relay For Life was in a virtual environment. Now I was attending one offline and I wondered if it was going to be the same … or different?
I had planned to arrive about an hour early so that I could find a place to park that would allow me to leave as soon as I had completed the Survivor’s Lap and had a bit of a wander. I was lucky indeed to acquire such a spot on the access road, just outside the gate to Brickfields. The air was full of those misty raindrops that are all too familiar to residents and visitors of this Island as I slipped my small backpack over my shoulder and locked the car.
I made my way into the compound which is right next to the city Rugby team’s pitch and stopped in my tracks. The sight that greeted me was a bit unbelievable, but later, when I found out that this was only the second RFL to be held in the city I reside in, I felt a sense of pride. There was a small stage area for speakers and entertainers to avail themselves of, a few “food wagons” selling burgers, hot dogs, coffee and cold drinks and about half-a-dozen family sized tents, one for each team. Trackside, there was a slightly larger tent for the Survivors and across the infield from that, another for team sign-up. And people … more people that I thought would be there having by this time been told this was “only our second relay”.
But what was more astounding than anything I could see was what I felt. There was an atmosphere of celebration surrounding this whole “community” of teams. While I am certain there were people in attendance that were walking for someone they had lost, it was not apparent. Only that whether Survivor, Caregiver or loved one … they were celebrating life in a grand way. I was also celebrating and becoming more aware of this by the minute.
Soon the Survivors began lining up on the track, a banner stretched across those in the front and we began our lap. When in Second Life I have walked this lap, I have thought of many things and it has been a highly emotional time. I walked in personal silence. Taking in the voices and faces around me. Absorbing energy that was not draining, but empowering. As I finished my lap and the others moved to join their teams and continue walking, I sank to my knees beside the track and gave thanks.
I treated myself to a cup of coffee and meandered around the “camp sites”. These were not highly decorated or breathtakingly designed, just run-of-the-mill tents that one might make use of on a vacation, yet what set them apart were the welcoming signs that gave the team’s names. Some had folding tables covered with flea market type items. Their fund raising continuing as the track was walked. There was laughter ringing all around and while I am almost positive that in some quiet corner of the compound someone may have been shedding a tear in memory of someone they loved, there was nothing to call attention to it.
Move forward in time several hours and I find myself back home, still wearing my Survivor shirt and sitting in front of my computer steeling my nerves for my second Survivor lap of the day and already feeling sad. I attended the Relay weekend opening with my partner, Angelika and our dear friend, Lucian and then we started our walk. For the first time, I may have walked in silence, but I shed very few tears. I said my mental goodbyes, remembered precious times I had shared with friends lost to this tragic and boundless monster, but I celebrated.
This year’s Relay weekend was one full of spirit for me, full of personal awareness and growth and I am so thankful that I have had the chance to take part in both relays. Here’s hoping that more people start ‘Celebrating’ being thankful for the ability to take part in these relays. That they continue ‘Fighting Back’ by making people aware of the symptoms. Here’s hoping that while they are ‘Remembering’, they are doing so with smiles, for the memories held within hearts and minds are priceless.