Jewish World Review
May 9, 2012/ 17 Iyar, 5772
American exceptionalism --- exceptional generosity
Dan K. Thomasson
I took a walk the other morning. As walks go, it wasn't particularly long, just five kilometers, or about three miles for those who, like me, weren't raised on the metric system. But it was far more important than most of my other walks.
What made this stroll different from my usual daily exercise was the fact that I wasn't alone and wishing the ordeal would be over sooner than later and it was for just more than my own benefit. I have to confess that some of those around me, including my 16-year-old granddaughter, actually ran. They finished this "Race for Hope" long before I straggled across the finish line.
This is an annual event to honor those who have survived brain cancer and those who haven't, which is far more than have. And on this pleasantly cool May morning with the U.S. Capitol shining in the distant, 12,000 or so of us lined up on Pennsylvania Avenue to run or walk for someone else and not just for our own self-indulgence.
The race raises money in the hopes of finding a cure for one of those awful things that, when diagnosed, strike fear in people of all ages and their loved ones. After all, the brain is such a mystery to most of us that any intimation that its synapses will be interrupted in any form is horrible to contemplate. It happened to me almost four years ago when Lisa Fitchett was given the scary news of a brain tumor.
But Lisa is one of those tough, vibrant souls who are undaunted by adversity and are always determined to persevere no matter the circumstances. Those qualities have made her a success in everything she has done -- school, athletics, career, wife and motherhood ... and just plain life. This, of course, is being said by a father who has never had a moment's lack of pride in her.
This trial was no exception, and as time passed her medical reports were excellent. She decided to form a team for raising money to help fight the good fight and enlisted family and friends, from both on and off the soccer field, to help her.
Has this event made any difference?
The proof that it has is seen in the number of actual survivors participating. Those men, women -- like Lisa -- and children, with the yellow balloons proudly tied to their wrists as winners in the struggle, have grown dramatically in the 15 years since the first race took place. Their presence at the head of the throng waiting to begin the march was nothing less than inspirational.
This year alone, the Race for Hope raised more than $2 million for research, and at least one team provided in excess of $100,000. Lisa's team of "Fitchett's Friends," with a female soccer player and a slogan of "kicking cancer" stenciled on the front of her team T-shirt, hasn't raised that much yet. But out of hundreds of teams, it did manage to rank in the top 50. We all proudly wore the blue shirt, including her mother, who couldn't walk but waited patiently.
There are a number of these affairs. The day before, the Washington sidewalks had been crowded with women and men in various displays of pink to fight breast cancer. No one complains about the disruption to traffic or the momentary inconvenience to commerce.
As I walked along in the shadow of the dome that has become the world's beacon for freedom, I couldn't help think that most Americans truly are a generous lot, even those without much. They are special in a world that too often thinks of them as callous, arrogant and pampered. That is the case despite the fact that millions upon millions of Americans are dedicated to helping others when needed at home and abroad.
That may be considered gross sentimentality in a cynical world, but I still believe it. Many of my fellow participants in this event were there because they had lost someone and didn't want others to have to bear that pain.
I thought of my mother, who cried every time she saw an underfed or inadequately dressed child and acted on it. If there is such a thing as the American spirit, this is where it lies.
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