October

Leaf, from art4linux.org

The world seems to come alive in October, as the wind begins to blow, gently at first, teasing the leaves who haven’t heard that it’s time to change. Then, all at once, as if the dogs’ evening howl spreads the message across the miles, the green begins to fade and the trees begin their dance with colors. First the maples tinge with orange, then the pears gather yellow about their branches. Finally the young exotic dons its coat of firey red, and our morning drive to school becomes a chorus of “ooh”s and “aah”s as we compete to find the prettiest, the most breathtaking, tree of the day. My children and I delight in seeing the colors take hold, competing in their brillance, creating a Fall mosaic more beautiful than the finest earthly artists, and one that each tree could never create on its own.

When I was a child, I never knew this cacophany of color. I grew up in Mississippi in the 1970s, a time and a place where just as the trees never changed (except green to brown, while we were sleeping), the people were slow to change as well. I remember — and this is only my memory, I don’t speak for others — I remember things being so concrete then. There were things that were Right. And things that were Wrong. And we were taught to know the difference. Everything was so clear-cut back then. We knew what was expected of us, and we either obeyed or rebelled, as fit with our own black-and-white, right-or-wrong, something-we-do-or-something-we-would-never-do moral code. Even the trees knew their place. They all obeyed the rule of nature and dutifully kept their demure green coats on until the exact day that they were told to turn brown and drop their leaves. Were there shades of brown? Not that I saw. There were no shades of grey in my youth that I remember. The trees were green, and then they were brown, and then they were bare, if they were so careless as to not be born a pine tree, with her evergreen gown around her.

I remember clearly — so clearly — my mother collecting the most vivid leaves she could find each Fall and taping them to the kitchen windows, bringing us a little of the magic she remembered from her youth and teaching us that there was more to see than green and brown in the world. It was something she did every year, and we “ooh”ed and “aah”ed along with her. Although I’m not sure my little brother and I ever could really see the magic that she saw in them, we tried. I remember trying. Daddy would lift us up to the window as very little children, and we gazed and squinted and tried to see the beauty that she did in the tinges of color that peeked out among the brown.

It wasn’t until I went away to college, far in the north (and by that, I mean Southern Virginia), that I truly saw what she had been trying to teach us. There was more to the world than the choices of Green or Brown. There were colors I had never imagined, as the oranges and yellows and reds danced with the green and brown, every color in the rainbow (except blue and purple. My children would like to know why not blue.) dancing in the trees, fluttering in the leaves as they pirouetted to earth in ways that crinkly brown Southern leaves never did. I fell in love with the trees, and the “north” where differing opinions could co-exist among good people, and I exulted in it, spreading my wings on Sunday drives in an old red convertible with my yankee friends, until the last rivulets of yellow danced in the Shenendoahs, and we put on jackets against the chill, preparing for snow in the valley.

Perhaps it was my strict Southern upbringing, perhaps it is an inborn cry for justice (I feel it, and I see in my young sons, who protest when classmates don’t follow the rules, for the sake of the rules themselves, and who fall apart when their routine is disrupted by a half-day or an impending field trip), but I rarely see shades of grey in the world. I see Right and Wrong and Injustice and OMG What Has To Be Done NOW. I end up SPEAKING UP rather than coexisting, and I know that doesn’t make me an easy friend. But it’s who I am and what I do. What I want to say here, and I don’t really know how, is that I APPRECIATE the efforts of all the people and organizations in the world bringing attention to a color that has already gotten a lot of attention this month: pink. There are shades of goodness in pink and shades that worry me. I realize now that they can co-exist, and that we can appreciate and enjoy all the shades of pink without declaring them ALL GOOD or all worthless, and that each shade of pink makes a contribution to the Fall mosaic around us that is bringing awareness and action to breast cancers, and is fighting the good fight in the way that feels right to them.

Today, I thank all the people and all the organizations formed across the globe that support the fight against breast cancer, that raise awareness, that raise funds for research, and that raise the spirits of those who struggle with this disease, in their own bodies or in that of the friends and family who they love. NEVER DOUBT that what you do makes a difference. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. And without the research and attention paid since the 1970’s War on Cancer, I would not even be alive right now, able to talk about the Fall colors outside my window, and the Fall colors of pink that are blanketing our new world.

Thank you for that. I heartily support the rainbow of efforts being made on my behalf and all of us who suffer from the breast cancers, as well as those pathfinders who have gone before. Here is (I hope) my last October post on pink, with links to my favorite organizations making a difference through their words, their campaigns, their dollars. Thank you, and please talk about your favorites in the comments if you’d like.

  • The American Cancer Society supports research and awareness on all the cancers – even the rare ones. Donate directly or go check out their newest campaigns: Choose You tips for healthy living, and online e-greetings for someone you know celebrating More Birthdays. Oh, and I did check out their NFL partnership and talked to ACS leadership: all of the pink you see at the games is being auctioned off by the NFL, with 100% of the proceeds going to ACS.
  • The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation conducts research and spreads awareness of the cancer that has attacked me twice. They do no fundraising campaigns and have no pink partnerships (and therefore use 100% of donations for the mission and goals of the foundation, including education and research about this rare and deadly cancer). I have personally confirmed with the executive director, an IBC survivor and advocate — All checks marked “research” will be used DIRECTLY for research grants to find a cause — and a cure — for this terribly fast moving disease trying to kill me and my friends.  (Disclosure: this is where I’m donating this year, as a selfish investment in my own future and in memory of those we’ve lost.)  This group gives me hope.  Real hope that medical researchers will find a real cure, and that I will live to rock on the porch with my husband watching the changing leaves of Fall when we are old together. 
  • Living Beyond Breast Cancer is an incredible support organization that has monthly teleconferences, annual meetings in Philadelphia, and a wealth of web and printed resources available for breast cancer survivors, family, and friends. They’re good people, and their Charity Navigator rating is four stars, with 82% of their income spent directly on programming. Donate directly or participate in one of their pink promotions if that appeals to you – just choose a product that donates a substantial proportion of the proceeds (“10% of the purchase price,” “50% of the proceeds,” or a dollar figure that works for you – there are partnerships with White House/Black Market, Chico’s, and Rubbermaid).
  • Other pink shopping: don’t be afraid, just check the label and ask yourself a couple of simple questions like I do:  How much of what I’m spending on this goes to charity?  Is it a charity I recognize? Do the contents of this product contribute to cancer (check out these pages on Eli Lilly and Estee Lauder for examples)? And last — am I buying this product just because it has a pink ribbon on it — and if so, wouldn’t it be better to just send a check directly?  If the answer to the last question is yes, put it down, my friends, and send a check for that amount when you get home to the charity of your choice.  Please.
  • October is much more than breast cancer awareness month.  While I’ve written a lot about breast cancer this year, I’d also like to give a shout-out to my friends in the babyloss community and the domestic violence awareness community who are also celebrating (if celebrating can even be used in this context) awareness months, as well as those whose cancers get significantly less attention.  Let’s all keep using our words and our dollars to make a difference in the world, and remember Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    12 Responses to October

    1. Catherine says:

      Susan, what a moving and poetic post. I stumbled on your blog just a few days ago… I so appreciate your thoughtful posts about pink ribbon promotions.
      I have taken some action based on your writings and just now put a donation in the mail to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Hope you enjoy this beautiful fall day.

      • whymommy says:

        Really? Thank you! I’m overwhelmed that you’d do that!

        My check is clipped to the mailbox this morning too.

        It’s time I get off my duff and use my check writing pen, in addition to my words.

    2. Nancy says:

      You write so beautifully. I love what you said/how you said it. Thank you.

    3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Susan N, Susan N and Sara Keeth, Nancy Shapiro. Nancy Shapiro said: RT @whymommy: Where I (finally) come to terms with pink October: http://bit.ly/98ymhX […]

    4. ohgrammy says:

      Thanks for the memories.

    5. NYFriend says:

      I enjoyed your words about the beautiful Autumn. 🙂

      I, of course, love it that you speak up. 😉

    6. Jojo says:

      Thank you for the balance this offers. There is good and bad in the pink and I think it is important to recognize the full spectrum.

    7. Such beautiful evocative words, you have transported me to Autumn in the Maryland mountains… all the way from our burgeoning Spring. We are surrounded by pink (and other coloured) blossom, and new green leaves, as well as pink ribbons and pink marketing. You have given me new eyes to look at all these things.

    8. sutari says:

      My younger daughter (nearly 5) has been asking to get her hair “painted” for probably 2 years now. We’ve always told her no, not until you are much older.

      But yesterday, I took her to a local salon and they glued a pink stripe into her hair. It will last a week or two. The salon charged nothing for this – just asked for a donation to Susan Komen. And we’ve now had a conversation about donating to charity, breast cancer, scientific research (and how it costs a lot of money), etc.

    9. Deb says:

      I’m only now beginning to understand that right and wrong, black and white, perfect and imperfect can not only coexist, but must. I always lived my life in black and white and now at middle age, everything is turning grey.

      A lovely post Susan.

    10. cristie says:

      Beautiful. Every word.

    11. Deanna says:

      I am from even further south (close to the Equator), and saw my first seasons when I came to MD for College. I appreciate your comparison of what we know as kids vs what we see in the bigger world as we grow up. I just wish that we never had to learn that pink represents breast cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with you and all those who continue to fight and surpass this disease. You amaze me.

      Your kids ask really good questions. After some searching, here is the best answer I found:

      http://web.extension.illinois.edu/askextension/thisQuestion.cfm?ThreadID=13974&catID=192&AskSiteID=87
      or
      http://tinyurl.com/2ayvyss

      Basically, the leaf pigments that are responsible for the red/orange/yellow/green colors we see, all happen to absorb the blue wavelengths – so we don’t see blue. The page above does say there are exceptions, but gives no hints about where to find them.

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