Cancer Lesson #55: A Close Shave Can Be Wonderful.
Every year, The Engineer, Darling Daughter and I go to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for Airventure.
This event is a celebration of aviation with over 10,000 planes and 100,000 people camping out on the field on any given night. We camp with a group of friends from all over the country, most of whom we see only at Oshkosh once a year.
This group, the Metro Warbirds, has been together for more than thirty years, (though we’ve only been part of it for the last ten). And over the years, they’ve developed some traditions.
One of these is brät night, complete with Wisconsin bratwurst, corn on the cob, and polka music. Metro Warbirds, old and new, and many guests join in the yearly tradition.
Then, as dusk falls, Bernie, master of all things ceremonial, asks us to look toward the sunset and join him in remembering those who have “gone west.”
We quietly gaze at the sky, each of us mentally reciting a litany of friends we have lost this year.
All who are now gone.
The sun sinks below the horizon, and Bernie’s voice raises again in words that have become familiar to us all.
“The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power, to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour … The present only is our own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in tomorrow, for the clock may then be still.”*
But during my cancer year, Bernie added something new. Pulling out a package of index cards, he instructed several teens to hand them out to everyone.
“Tonight,” he said, throwing his hat to the ground, “we’re going to help the American Cancer Society in their quest for a cure.”
He urged us to write down a dollar amount on our card, the amount that we would donate in the next year, and we began fumbling for pens, passing them on after writing our numbers and throwing the cards into the hat.
My eyes soon brimmed as full as the hat, and still Bernie – a cancer survivor himself – wasn’t done.
To honor these pledges, and all who have fought cancer, he pulled up a camp chair with a dramatic flourish, seated himself, and announced “A Cut for the Cure.”
Tiger, one of the Arkansas contingent and a barber in real life, pulls out his electric razor.
The Engineer follows, then Rand from California, and Mike the margarita maker. Mississippi, who cooks the best barbecue in Illinois, is followed by his son Robert.
Robert ends up with a temporary Mohawk but Tiger eventually relents and cuts off the middle before Tom the Colorado beekeeper is seated for his turn.
Next is Sir William, who flies for United, clutching my hand for moral support, and then I lose track.
A kid I’ve never seen before is shorn. Maybe he just wanted a free cut.
Cameras flash, probably reflecting off our bald heads.
My friend Steve make the cut. Later he tells me he did it to honor both Dale and me.
Another guy I haven’t met. This is getting a little weird. Still, I can’t stop crying. I understand this night is for all who have fought cancer, but I also know that includes me.
I’m not the only one bawling. Almost everyone here has given me an emotional — and wet — hug. Two men I’ve just met tell me, with tears in their eyes, of their wives’ battles with cancer, and I’m grateful to hear that both women are survivors.
Finally, Tiger puts away his clippers. Darling daughter, wearing her flourescent pink wig, counts up the pledges and cash. In a few short hours, the Metro Warbirds have raised more than $3300.
At least seventeen men now sport a haircut like mine, and they look like little boys who’ve just gotten their summer haircuts. I feel accepted, a little less freakish, for the first time in weeks, surrounded by smiling (and crying) people who love me.
We go to bed that night with a new Oshkosh memory, leaving only a pile of human hair near the tail of the plane in the row across from us and wondering what the owner will think when he discovers a pile of human hair while pre-flighting his plane.
But in the end no one is around to ask.