Is it in gratitude or ingratitude?
Humor me here. I tend to diverge from the mainstream on this issue.
My daughter attends Catholic school and runs cross country at the junior high
level. Her school feeds into local Catholic high schools in our city and many of her former teammates have moved on to run for their teams. A few weeks ago, we were at a meet that combines junior high and high school runners and learned that a girl from one of the teams had been in a serious car accident the day before. She was in a coma; everyone stopped to pray for her and her teammates, all dressed up and faces painted to honor her.
Tragically, three days later, the 16-year-old cross-country runner died.
As a mother, it was easy to see that girl’s similarity to my own daughter, to imagine the utter devastation of her family, and in general to reflect on the fragility of our lives. It was hard for everyone to think about the pain of their former teammates and friends too. She came from a neighboring parish and while most of the team didn’t know her, everyone was affected.
The following weekend, we hosted our first home meet. The kids made headbands in the colors of grieving team, wrote her initials on their hands, prayed for her family, and verbally dedicated their runs to her. They ran while her funeral was held across town.
It occurs to me that these gestures of solidarity could be easily dismissed like pink ribbons. Trivial, meaningless, contravening the serious nature of this tragedy. Maybe even co-opting someone else’s loss for selfish gain.
Those are common refrains in the Pinktober backlash, maybe I’ve said them once or twice.
I think that misses two crucial points.
1. We didn’t know the girl who died, but were moved by her story. We live in a web of connections, nothing happens in isolation. While I can stake a claim to my version of my cancer story, I no longer believe I am the sole owner of it. Everyone was affected, even people I didn’t know.
And when people are hurt, in pain, or feeling the need to connect, they might grab the low hanging fruit like a pink ribbon can opener, wrap it up in pink ribbon tissue and give it as a gift: as a gesture, as a desperate attempt to alleviate their own feelings of helplessness.
At this point, we recipients have a choice. We can be smug and know that they are just not as enlightened as we are, or we can be humble, offer sincere gratitude, and know that our lives ripple outward. When the time is right, we can offer social critique.
2. Intention matters, road to hell or not. People want to offer support, so show their care and concern. If we spend all our time telling them how stupid they are to be taken in by the pink machine, we drive them away. If we squander goodwill and the sincere desire to help, we invite them to walk away from us and from the breast cancer entirely. No one wants to be told they are a fool.
Yes, the pink ribbon culture angers me. So does its opposite – the anti-pink ribbon culture.
Cynicism lurking around every corner has sent me running for the hills over the last few years too. And I’m living this stuff. I can only imagine what people on the sidelines think when their attempts to reach out are met with scoffing.
So please know that my criticism is saved for those turning a profit from disease and those using smoke and mirrors to make their organizations self-sustaining.
If you show up at my door tomorrow with some pink ribbon socks, I will invite you in. I’ll be grateful because I know you care. And you want to be part of the solution. And we need you to be a part of the solution. Thank you for being a part of the solution. Let’s figure out together what the right path is.
Cynicism won’t cure breast cancer any more than pink Doritos will.