The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Bah! Keep you’re awareness and your fundraising to yourself. It’s all just a ruse anyway. Where and who does the money go to anyway? Probably some Susan G. Komen CEO’s friend or another. Another money collecting scheme like the many before it, pulling on the heartstrings of unsuspecting troglodytes who haven’t the sense enough to realize when they’re being duped.
These were the thoughts of a man whose heart was sealed to the suffering and pain of others. A heart walled off to compassion and warmth for strangers unknown. A year ago… these were my thoughts. A year ago… that all changed.
It’s very easy to look at the world and see the vile and vitriol. Our news outlets seem to revel in showering us with daily filth. I do not shy away from the truth but I do understand the effects of a constant barrage of disparaging information. Case and point, last June an article came out by CNN titled “Above the law: America’s Worst Charities”. They used the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting results of a yearlong investigation on America’s Worst Charities. CNN reported that the top 50 worst charities “gave less than 4% of donations raised to direct cash aid”, with two-thirds of the other 96% going directly to For-Profit organizations for fundraising costs. For comparison’s sake, charity watchdog groups say no more than 35 percent of donations should go to fundraising costs.
Furthermore, and in relation to October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, 9 of the 50 worst were charities committed to raise funds for cancer patients. And 4 of those 9 were directly tied to breast cancer fundraising. But I do not wish to dwell on the hardness of others’ hearts in response to the troubles of this world… only mine. I reference this story, and the many like it, to demonstrate what ideas populated my head and allowed me to act so abrasively to those who spoke of helping those in need and those in pain.
Last October, we had a drive to raise money for the Susan G. Komen foundation. I spent the better part of the month berating and challenging those that participated in the drive. I had especially harsh words for anyone that solicited funds from my pocket. “It’s a racket. Probably doesn’t even help anyone”, I spat regularly. My tower of arrogance and self-righteousness was quite high and there was no ‘Rapunzel’ian locks to afford anyone access. I was shut off from the heartache of breast cancer and sitting comfortably. That was until a car ride home one late-October afternoon.
A friend, we’ll call him Jeff, was giving me a lift home from work. During the ride, we discussed the details of our families. I had five sisters, he had three, so we joked playfully about the toils of growing up with such feminine influences. He spoke highly of his sisters and his father’s commitment to raising them right but he never mentioned his mother. So I asked – unknowingly.
“What’s your mom like?”
“My mother passed away from breast cancer when I was 14.”
My tower crumbled.
I sat there stuttering words of sympathy for the remainder of the ride, attempting to avoid the subject altogether. But when I arrived home I pondered the loss of my friend’s mother. It made me think on the possibility of losing my own friends, my own sisters… my own beloved mother.
How can we act so cavalierly and with such careless judgments in the face heartache?
How can a man be so calloused to really lose site of life?
How could I be so hardened of heart to disregard others’ pain in such ways?
My heart finally broke.
I gave over to what it was really about. These foundations may be flawed, and the people who run them certainly are as well, but so too are the individuals they are trying to help, and that is why we help. People are in pain. These “awareness” months, while financially important, are not just about money. In the end, they are an opportunity to realize the benefits of a broken heart. The benefits of a heart that breaks for another in need, in pain, in suffering. These months allow us as human beings to once again remember the sanctity and gift of life we have all been given. These months show us our own frailty – a frailty that that connects us to one another.
So with another October in full bloom, I pray my heart breaks. I pray it breaks again and again and again. I pray it never stops breaking. Because only then will we truly understand that it is not just those suffering from diseases like cancer that are in pain…
it is all of us.