As I reviewed the agenda of a recent advocacy meeting, I noted each day kicks off with a moment of silence. I’m sure the organizers have the best of intentions. How could silence offend anyone?
You would be surprised.
Earlier this year I attended an advocacy seminar. Each day opened with a remembrance of someone who had died from breast cancer and then a moment of silence. I was seated in the second to last row in a hotel meeting room with about 125 other attendees. Originally, out of old habit, I sat in the last row.
As a student, I always wanted to be as far as possible from the teacher. As a veteran of many trade shows, seminars and association meetings, I find it prudent to sit close to the door–maybe I can’t pick locks like Houdini but I can always pick the quickest escape route from any conference room.
Immediately after I sat down a woman approached me. I thought she was a fellow attendee coming to introduce herself. But it was actually a senior director from the advocacy group. “This row is reserved for the speakers,” she said. “Would you please move?”
I moved to the second to last row. During a break, I learned the young man to my left grew up in the shadow of my hometown. He was the Ace of Second Base–I am unclear on the group’s mission. His main activity apparently involved running long distances wearing an outrageously decorated and overstuffed bra over his t-shirt. His participation seemed on par with inviting Al Jolson to sing “Mammy” at an NAACP meeting.
At first the costume bra was casually displayed on a side table. But on the final morning, the Ace put it on over his golf shirt and posed for photos.
On the first day, each person rose and introduced themselves. “I can do this,” said one. “I can beat this thing.” Another attendee said she wasn’t a survivor. “I’m a THRIVER!” she declared to applause.
On the first day, the meeting’s facilitator lead the moment of silence. On the second day, she asked a volunteer to do it. A woman offered fond recollections of her sister who had died of breast cancer. The facilitator then called for silence.
I don’t know what people thought about during the quiet period. Maybe some offered prayers or were reminded of others who had died from cancer. Probably none of us could imagine ourselves as the sister who died. We would try harder and do more and take better care of ourselves. She might have had other health problems. It wouldn’t happen to us.
Nina Schulman, co-founder of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), died in 2008. She refused to go quietly.
“Nina was determined that our programs, our brochures, our website all represent hope,” recalled her friend and former MBCN president Ellen Moskowitz. “She would not allow any aspect of death. She didn’t want candles lit or moments of silence in remembrance. She wanted everyone to focus on keeping us alive!”