About a decade ago I joined a team of Colorado women to participate in a Susan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer walk. We’d be traveling to California to join over 30,000 women to walk 60 miles and camp together at a mass site set up for the event. Participating teams were encouraged to decorate their designated section of camp.
A few team members suggested that we turn our site into a Colorado ski scene using those single-use, white plastic table clothes to create snow covered mountains. There was agreement all around. Apparently no one saw the irony in using plastic to depict what might be Colorado’s greatest natural asset. Or the irony that plastic is known to cause cancer, which we were rallying against.
I was the only person to speak out against the idea. From the reactions I got, you’d think I’d suggested we do away with Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. To their defense, I didn’t offer any solutions or alternative ideas. I hardly supported my stance, offering only that it was wasteful and bad for the environment.
There were many emails exchanged about the stir I caused, but one stood out. It came from a breast cancer survivor. She wrote about her struggles fighting the disease and ultimately the celebration of surviving. At the end of the day all that mattered was that she could hug her children and husband. Enough years have passed that I don’t recall her exact words, but she made it clear that if I understood her struggle I too would celebrate life with plastic mountains.
Neither of us knew our audience. I had never walked in her shoes and how would she have known that I knew cancer all too well. My dad died of cancer when I was 13. Although I very much celebrate his life, I didn’t get to celebrate his survival.
That experience largely shapes who I am today. You see, I believe to heal ourselves we must heal the planet. To celebrate our lives, we must too celebrate other life on this planet.
I turn 49 this year – the same age my dad was when he died. You can damn well bet I don’t take that for granted. One thing is for sure, with each passing year I grow more committed to pulling down plastic mountains.
The biggest irony of those plastic mountains is they came down shortly after they were constructed. The 3-Day event organizers asked them to be removed for safety reasons. Now those plastic table clothes sit in a landfill for a thousand years or more.
Today we ring in the new year. My resolution is to pull down more plastic mountains and climb real ones. Hopefully along the way, there will be many celebrations.
Happy New Year!