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June 19, 2004
You're what? I have just opened an email from my niece, who gave birth about three weeks ago. She hopes I will support her in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk. Wow -- I knew new mothers were intrepid these days, but I had no idea how intrepid.

I see with some relief that the actual walk isn't until April 30th, in her city. That's good, because it takes at least six years to get your strength back after childbirth, and can easily take nine or ten. You need plenty of bedrest and lots of antioxidants, of which chocolate is an important one. I'm only just now getting back to normal, and my youngest is 29.

Would you like to dedicate your donation? the Avon website asks. That's a good idea: I can dedicate it to my friend who has recovered from breast cancer. She is a nun, busy at either prayer or work from early morning until late at night every day except their Sabbath day. But when she was ill she could barely arise. She struggled to eat; the medicines nauseated her. Under her coif, her hair was gone.

What do they care? you ask. Nobody sees their hair anyway -- they cover their heads.

But she did care. And they don't all cover their heads. These days, they have some choices about whether or not to wear their veils. In this order, most do and some don't. One sister is the haircut maven for the group; I turned into the driveway one beautiful summer day and saw several of them having their hair cut under the shade of a tree, laughing like young girls. One of them had long, thick hair under her veil, and this spring she had it all cut off, to donate to a group that uses the donated hair to make wigs for chemotherapy patients to wear when their hair falls out. They made a ceremony out of the haircut, blessing the gift and the person who would wear it. Then she sent it off in a box, an investment in the healing and comfort of someone she will never meet.

In the midst of life -- childbirth, work, a life of vowed service -- the body quietly asserts its needs. You fail to attend to them at your peril. And, since we do not know what our need will be before we have it, we attend to the needs of other peoples' bodies. Walks and cycling trips for cancer and AIDS, diabetes, heart disease -- most of the people on these walks are healthy. Cutting off your hair and sending it off in a box, for a stranger to wear. If we help now, while we are well, there may be more hope for us when we become ill. Or more hope for someone we adore, and can't imagine living without.

And some of the people walking -- and even some of the people sending off their hair for someone else to war -- are survivors of the diseases they act to eradicate. Bravi, tutti! One for our side, the side of the living, the cause of life and health.


Sponsor my niece, Laura Updyke, in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk.
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