It’s late on Saturday evening and I’m stood by a running track in a leisure centre in Portsmouth. Around the outside of the track are some 1200 little white bags, each one decorated and containing a battery-operated tea light. There are tents and gazebos all along the inner side of the track and people walking and running around it in blue or purple t-shirts. Some are stopping to read the messages and names on the lit bags as they pass. There’s the sound of a bagpiper and everyone is drawn towards where the music comes from. A few minutes later and everyone is on the track, the floodlights go off and everyone walks this candlelight vigil, many holding glowsticks. The scene is quietly sad yet strangely uplifting as well. Each candle along the track is in memory of someone who has been lost in the fight against cancer, a commemoration of the fallen. As the walkers pass me I step onto the track and walk with them. I haven’t placed a candle for those I’ve lost to this disease but I draw some strength for the fact that I’m not alone in having to deal with loss. When cancer takes someone it’s very easy to feel like you’re the only person ever to face that loss and knowing you are not alone is, in some strange way, a comfort.
As we walked I could feel the cold line of the tears rolling down my cheeks. I walked alone though many walked in pairs or groups, holding hands and comforting each other. At one point we all pass a wall with the word “HOPE” written on it in giant letters, lit up somehow but I’m to misty eyed and tearful to care how.
That is my lasting memory of being at the Portsmouth Relay For Life, a Cancer Research event that brings together hundreds of people to commemorate those who are fighting cancer now, survivors and those who have been lost and raises money so that one day it will be totally conquerable.
This weekend saw the Cancer Research event “Relay for Life” take place at The Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth and I was there as part of the Elemental Tent Team.
This is an emotional event bringing together cancer survivors and families and friends who’s lives have been affected by cancer. Hundreds of people come together to walk or run for or both for 24 hours, in relay teams, to raise money for Cancer Research in the hope of seeing an end to cancer.
Jean and Eric Gamblin have been supporting the event for several years, first as part of a team of walkers/runners and then taking the Elemental Tent there providing support for all those taking part. They and the tent have become such a part of the community there that they are specifically invited back for what they bring to the event.
Jean and Eric and the people they bring with them, which included me this year, brought a safe space where people could take a moment to step away from the emotionally charged relay, where conversations could take place and maybe offer some spiritual comfort and where kids of all ages could cut loose in water-fights, play gungy games and enjoy peace with a puppet show.
Possibly the nicest thing was to see the churches pull together to support Jean and Eric in something that is important to them. As Christians we should always be looking to ways we can demonstrate God’s love in the world around us but it’s also incredibly important that we support each other and build one another up as it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”