My First Event
I walked through the glossy wooded front door that was set in a gray stoned wall. I was greeted with a smile by a tall, bald headed bouncer with no neck, hefty arms and a chub-face. He was an over sized Irishman in a black shirt with the word “Staff” printed in white lettering across the left side of the chest. “ID please,” asked the bouncer. This was nice because after we break the 40 year age barrier, it is good to be carded at the door of a bar and made to prove that you are in fact over the age of 21.
I was given a band to wrap around my wrist and a red ticket with the actual word, “Ticket” on it, which was printed in black lettering with a random number across the top and bottom edge of the serrated ticket.
The bar and restaurant was somewhat large. Aside from the mixed crowd and mixed ages for the family friendly event, the bar had a slight college feel to me; perhaps leaving me slightly nostalgic and with the reminiscent feeling of a time when I was involved with small club promotions and parties. I thought of my days as a wannabe promoter on Hempstead Turnpike where we enticed crowds with 25 cent drinks and drafts.
It was a Sunday in mid-March. There was snow in piles around the sides of the parking lot. Most of the snow was melted but the remaining mounds piled at the sides of streets and curbs with a brown layer of dirt across the top of the once-white snow. The snowy piles were reminders that the winter air was still with us and the cold refused to loosen its grip.
I arrived at the event when the party was in mid-swing. I was happy to see old friends that I had not seen in decades. Some of my old friends in attendance were friends that had not seen since my days in McVey Elementary School.
Matt was there with a smile. He was there before my wife and I showed. I have had the opportunity to see Matt throughout the years. We saw each other at random times in random places. And though years may have passed between some of those chanced meetings, Matt always greeted me with the same, “Old friend” kind of smile, handshake and hug. It is safe to say that while yes, Matt and I have traveled in different circles and been through different things and spent time in different places, Matt has always been a close friend to me.
Sided by my wife, Matt offered to buy the first round. I’m an easy drink. Coke no ice. My wife is not much of a drinker at all; however, Matt turned her on to a few different tasty beers.
Shortly after, the fun was underway. There was a band that played loudly. There was as upstairs and a downstairs. The Irish Pub was decorated as anyone would imagine. A large mirror stretched behind each of the bars throughout the establishment. Each mirror behind each bar stood with tall bottles of alcohol standing on shelving and a cash register in the middle. Banners of different beer companies strung across from the ceiling; there were coasters on the bar, and a black box with drink napkins and a red straws to stir them at either end of the counter, which was made of a medium stained glossed over wood. A golden bar ran at the bottom for drinkers and patrons alike to rest their feet upon as they sat with drinks in their hand.
After taking in the atmosphere, I put my arm around Matt’s shoulder. I felt a smile come from within. It is rare that in this world, we have the chance to go through life and see our old friends grow from childhood into a successful adulthood.
Matt and I share memories. We shared an art class together. He remembers more than I do about those days. I assume this is because Matt’s mind was clearer and less polluted than mine was. He remembers more about “The good old days,” but would say less, and if a stranger asked about me and the old times, Matt would say nothing at all. Again, to have a friend like that in such a loose-lipped world is a rare find . . .
The event was organized by a group I knew little about. I was invited to join a team to shave my head and help raise money for children fighting pediatric cancer. I took this challenge to pay back for the amends I could never make. I joined to ease the guilt of my mistakes or faults as a father. I accepted the invitation to join this event with hopes to help a child in need. As well, I hoped to pay for some of my sins. Moreover, I joined the event because I am a dad, and as a dad, I do not think I could sustain such heartache as cancer or survive the unnatural loss of my daughter.
I joined the St. Baldrick’s event because I wanted to help a child. Upon my agreement, I challenged the promoter, “I guarantee I will raise more money than anyone else at this event. But I have one demand. I want one of the children to shave my head.”
The purpose to raise money for research and awareness was very clear to me. On the other hand, I realize that children understand less about finances than a parent would. They understand little about long-lettered diseases like “Neuroblastoma” that often comes with a death sentence.
Children do not know about doctor and medical bills. All these kids know is they are sick. They know they lost their hair. They miss out on play dates with friends. They know what chemo is and what it does. They know they feel sick from the medicine. Though the medicine is designed to save their lives, the affects seem to slightly kill them. Aside from the fact that radiation and the toxin used to kill the cancer is literally a poison—children are subjected to the same doses as adults. The reason why is most of the money raised for research and awareness is geared towards adults. The more I learned about what pediatric cancer is and what it does; the more I saw this as unfair and knew I needed to do something about it
I decided if I am going to do this for the children of St Baldrick’s, then I am going to do this for the children and not for anyone else. It is them who need the victory. Heaven forbid a childhood without a smile. Heaven forbid a childhood without a game of hide and seek, or hours spent running in a playground.
No . . .
If I was to be a part, then I would have to give more than only a part of myself. I would have to give all of me. I would have to do all that I could to raise all that I can. My goal was to raise more money than anyone else. In exchange, a child stricken with cancer would shave my head. In exchange for my efforts, a child, or best I say it as they are; a kid would have the chance to have fun and shave someone’s head. With much pride; I achieved that goal.
One of my oldest and closest friends agreed with this mindset. Vin was right there with me, raising money and screaming just as loud as me. He had a child shave his head too. And like me, Vin raised more money than anyone else at the event.
I do not remember the little girl’s name that shaved my head. I only remember the tears leaking from my eyes as I watched my friend Lisa. Lisa cried as she took my picture and video of my head shaving. To understand this; perhaps I should explain that cancer took Lisa’s brother. Lisa and I go way back to the days of grade school too. She gave me this avenue to improve myself. She invited me to this special event. And from this, I became hooked.
I have never been a part of something so painfully beautiful and purposeful. I made a little girl smile. Her hair was just beginning to grow back. A face painter painted the young girl’s face.
She was absolutely beautiful.
With my head shaved and tears dried, I walked away from the shaving area where crowds of other participants volunteered to raise money and shaved their heads as a sign of devotion to the children of St. Baldrick’s.
I approached the bar in the other room. Inside, I felt this overwhelming feeling. I felt a calling—very much the same as when a man feels he has been called to the Lord to fulfill a purpose; I felt as if I found myself. I found an inner fire. I found my purpose. In my moment of gratefulness, I clenched my eyes tightly to savor the sweet tenderness of feeling as if I made a difference.
I ordered a club soda from the smiling bartender and tipped generously. I turned to see the crowd and the smiles. I inhaled to feel the warmth and strength of this occasion. To my left, I noticed a man walking towards me. He was weeping. I had never seen him before, but his eyes were obviously fixed upon me. He shook slightly while extending his hand to me and said, “Thank you.”
Accepting the emotional handshake, I assured the man, “There’s nothing to thank me for.”
“No,” said the man. “You don’t understand.”
A single teardrop rolled from his left eye as he explained, “That was my daughter that shaved your head.”
It was then that I realized I was not only shaving my head for the children. I was shaving my head for their families. I shaved my head for the friends and loved ones of anyone who was ever sick with cancer. I shaved my head—and whether we find the cure or the money we raised went to an experiment that went wrong; I shaved my head for a purpose and I will do it again until we succeed.
I will not give in and I refuse to go gently.
This Monday morning, I will undergo a two hour procedure for a platelet donation. I did not ask who the blood was for. I did not ask what I will get in return. I only asked when can I come in and how soon can I come back to do it again.
Whatever you do unto the least of my brethren you do unto me . . .
Well folks, these children are far from the least.
I think it’s time we do something about it . . .