By Kenny Osborn
In 1988, 250 campers, over the course of a summer, came to experience a different kind of healing.
250. Strangers. Patients. Perhaps away from home for the first time, except for hospital visits that had become frequent enough that they could be called “normal.” 250 who knew discomfort, insecurity, and uncertainty better than anyone in the world, and now were once again stepping into the unknown. An unheard of program that would allow them to be included in things that the most people take for granted. 250 families that somehow found the strength to let them go. Trusting these precious lives to the care of the Hole in the Wall Gang. Bonds were built that summer as strangers became friends. And friends became networks. And networks became support systems. And support systems become circles.
On Sunday night after the ride into Mystic, we sat fireside under a star filled sky telling stories and laughing in the warm and smoky air when the realization settled in to each of us. Somehow it had happened again: Another AngelRide had come and gone and we were left to bask in only the memories…and in that moment, from a heartfelt place, a simple statement.
“You guys. You are my Circle.”
Although the weekend couldn’t have been summed up more perfectly than in that thought, we all had the moment to silently reflect on the enormity of the statement. And in that reflection, a unique but similar thought went through each of our minds. Perhaps it was Dave’s continued recovery from cancer making this year’s ride such a triumph. Perhaps it was the #TeamKate and #KateStrong moniker that we carried throughout the weekend on our One Ton kits and in our hearts. Most certainly, in the forefront, it was the children and families of the Hole in the Wall Gang. Each thought, unique to ourselves, but binding us to one another. United in support. A circle indeed.
We had spent the afternoon and evening telling the stories about all that we had seen, and all that we had experienced over the past few days, weeks, and even months. Some stories will remain untold. Forgotten…until an idle conversation later in the year that sparks enough of a thought for us remember. From that spark, in an unrelated conversation with an unrelated person who may not have even been at the AngelRide, there is a trigger that creates the avalanche of memory. As our minds race to keep up with the thoughts as they tumble out of control, we may catch glimpse of something that went unnoticed before, even to ourselves. Perhaps we’ll hold back and savor the story in our own mind, keeping it as just that…a private thought of our own. Or maybe, we’ll decide to share it. To let others in. Speaking from experience, I can say that sharing it can be difficult. Some advice though; there is a tremendous reward in sharing. For in the telling, we enjoy the opportunity of reliving. My ride with Becky taught me that last year, but only after a group of friends said “in your own time” that allowed me to open up. My circle.
As the evening moved to night, we toast the AngelRide for another successful year. To the Volunteers…that amazing group that makes this all possible. To all those who donate, be it time, energy and/or money. The riders. Every single one. To Moto. We toast the Hole in the Wall Gang for all they do, and are so grateful that they exist, although we all wish they didn’t have to. We toast each other. Unspoken, in the back of our minds is the ever present echo of why we are here. For the kids. For their families. To help provide some relief to those who must search it out…every minute of every day, because for them, there is no pause. No break from the uncertainty. The unrelenting “Whys” and “What ifs” won’t allow for it. This universal feeling that, knowing that the Hole in the Wall exists is simply not enough. This bond we share creates an overwhelming feeling that requires no spoken word. At Camp, they get you. It’s demonstrated each year as we sit in the theatre hall on Saturday night. The ride for the day is done, but the true meaning of why we are all gathered will be, once again, revealed and reinforced for us.
Peter is a camp dad. The father of a child lost. He summons the strength to talk to us about his nephew, diagnosed and lost to cancer. And then the unthinkable. His son. He speaks in short bursts so that he can take a break to breath and collect himself between thoughts. As he tells us about his son, it becomes more and more clear that, while time may heal all wounds, not enough has passed. Perhaps it never will. A collective desire to support this man…this stranger, who is baring his wounded heart to all of us so that we can see just how important this place is to him fills the room. Perhaps coming here, standing on this stage, telling his story is part of the healing process. How the Hole in the Wall Gang allowed his son to be a kid. Not just a patient. To let him feel acceptance. How it brought sunshine to his life. How it brought a smile to his child’s face. At camp…they get you.
The entire room seems to shrink in around him.
Lisa is a camp mother. Her daughter lost, and through the mourning, her young son asks, “Why?” An unanswerable question that he puts to his mother, while she too must attempt to answer it for herself. She cannot. In his confusion he feels not only sorrow, but alone. As he struggles with the “why” as he becomes more disconnected from his family and friends. It is evident in the lack of interest in playing, talking, and school. The unanswered question of why has been replaced with “What’s the point?”
Through the sibling program at Camp, her son, Evan, can attend and meet other siblings. He can have conversations that only these kids can understand. Reveal feelings. Vent anger. Share tears. Ask why. Remember his sister. Lean on shoulders…and perhaps most importantly, lend an ear, a hand to hold, and true understanding to ANOTHER person who is going through the same thing he is.
Camp helps Evan heal, and shows him that he can help other siblings like him heal too. Even if the “Why” is never answered, the feeling of being alone is relieved. He is not alone. His has a Circle.
Now, 27 and a professor at a university with degrees in Mathematics and Astro Physics, his quest to answer “why” spills into a thirst for knowledge. He asks why, and encourages others to do so also. Evan speaks to us and credits camp as a part of his recovery. The room again seems to crowd around without moving. The community grows tighter still.
Those of us that have sat in the theatre before expect that not all the stories end happily, but there is happiness in them all. The Magic of camp. All those who take this stage know that they will be embraced. Held in silent support, and gentle awe of the strength they demonstrate and frailty at the same time. Earlier this spring I got a wonderful and kind note from a Camp Mom whose son was a sibling camper. She signed off as “Lisa”…and I can’t help think that just maybe…
Among the many reasons I’m grateful that I have become involved with AngelRide is the friendship I share with Ed Dean. While we only see each other one weekend a year, we talk semi-regularly. I use the word “talk” in the loosest sense as our conversations are typically an exchange of instant messages on FaceBook. I believe that counts as a conversation in this day and age. During the course of one particular chat, Ed said to me “We are all just a reflection of those we find ourselves surrounded by.” The sentiment of that phrase struck me, so I have saved the message.
“…those we find ourselves surrounded by.”
Ed provides a truly honest perspective as he doesn’t hide from the difficulty of the mountain he has had to, and continues to climb. He credits those who surround him with providing shelter from the storm and he imparts that insight into nearly every conversation we have. From the onset of his injury, to the becoming the man who stood up…Ed has bared his scars and relied on his circle. In Ed’s own words, don’t be inspired by him…be inspired by those surrounding him. As we talked, I started to realize that sometimes, the support we all receive is unseen, and perhaps underappreciated. We are all inspired by the strength of the immediately affected…but a deeper look will reveal the support system surrounding them. Ed doesn’t miss the opportunity to give credit where it is due. As I thought about it…the Hole in the Wall Gang Counselors came to mind. And the Angel Ride Volunteers. And my wife.
“…And now the Circle gets smaller.”
I’ve been thinking about this statement made by Dave since the moment he made it. Every year Dave leads us in remembrance of our military and their sacrifices. We honor both those serving, and those whom have served. Those home, those abroad, and, of course, in observation of Memorial Day, those who have fallen. This year Dave called for the group to circle around him. He asked the Veterans among the group to come inside the circle. Inside of our veterans, Dave called for anyone who had a family member who had served. I very proudly took my spot inside the circle as the son of a Marine. Finally, Dave asked anyone, should they feel comfortable enough, to join him inside the family circle if they had lost a family member in combat. One person joined my friend Dave. This innermost circle of only two. Two… surrounded by an impenetrable wall of humanity who collectively wanted to reach out and console, for the deeper you penetrate into the circle, the more support you need (deserve), and the thicker that the walls of your circle grow. Knowing that, while we couldn’t possibly know the feeling of loss due to circumstances over which there was no control, what we could offer is a place to lean. I couldn’t help but to think that the circle that is the smallest, is the strongest. How appropriate to have such metaphor at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
The ride to Mystic is a great way to reflect on all that happened the day before. As I ride, I inevitably think of the theatre the night before. This year was no different. I do at least part of the ride alone so that I can let my mind wander. Picturing Ray Shedd coming across the picnic area to say hello. Seeing Lynn in her ever enthusiastic controlled chaos, every moment calculated and somehow spontaneous as the same time. John, amazing me again with his tenacity. Moto watching us like hawks, and keeping us from harm’s way to the best of their mighty ability. I also have the opportunity to ride with several of my teammates…for however long they could bear to be around my squeaking bike. It’s those moments that resonate with me the most I think. Five years ago I knew only one person at this ride…and today it’s more like family. The closing miles into Mystic are bittersweet. The party is starting…but the ride is over. Riding in with my teammates was great. Having Dave in the front to lead us in was something to remember. This event is special that way.
In 1988, 250 patients came to a small town in the north east of Connecticut where they were welcomed as kids. These once strangers were shown that they were not alone by the staff and volunteers of the Hole in the Wall Gang…and most importantly, by each other. Universal acceptance. A gift beyond imagination.
In 2014, more than 31,000 campers and hospital visits brought a kind of healing that no doctor…no medicine can. If you are reading this…it’s a pretty good bet that you helped make this happen.
All in a circle.
Thank you Angel Ride.
Thank you Moto.
Thank you One Ton.
Thank you Lynn and Fred and the entire Angel Ride community.
Dave, special thanks to you. You know why.
Thank you again Hole in the Wall Gang. Not just for being there, but for continuing to be there. For your ever expanding Circle.
And Just as I’m closing this out… a message comes across my FaceBook feed from #TeamKate.
With Heartfelt sincerity,
Team One Ton