I Have Been Provoked | Starfish, A Baseball Game, and Connections

It sailed high and quickly. Lifting off his bat. Lifting all in Fenway Park out of their seats. Magic. A shared pulse. Hopeful. It was the 12th inning. Game six. The World Series. Carlton Fisk’s hit was heading towards the Green Monster. Careening off the left field post, it was a walk off home run. The Boston Red Sox would play a game seven against the Cincinnati Reds. I was 10.

We all share moments like that one in Fenway Park. Where we come together. Sometimes it is just a group of friends. Perhaps even a couple. Other times, it is a sporting event or a concert. Sometimes, like in 1969, it is when humanity first reached the moon. We share a pulse. A single heartbeat. By the way, living in Ohio at the time, I was rooting for the Cincinnati Reds… 🤣⚾️

Jackson Square
New Orleans, LA | January 2013

Maureen and my heart beat as one on January 29. April 7. October 1. 1999. 2004. 2001. Taylor, Katelyn, and Kyla. Months earlier we heard each of their heartbeats. At each ultrasound, we smiled, just like we did the day they were each born. We smiled because as a result of our love, and our deep connection, a new pulse was about to enter the world. New heartbeats. 15, 13, and 11 years later, another heart stopped beating. However, as the last 5 years have made clear for Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn and me, the pulse of love beats at a level beyond our comprehension. Maureen’s love still pulses within all of us.

That pulse beat deeply for all in the gymnasium last Friday. St. Andrew’s Day. My 14th, having only missed one since Taylor started first grade at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. It was Maureen and my favorite gathering. In the gymnasium at the Upper School. We always cherished Lessons and Carols a few weeks later, but this one. Well, St. Andrew’s Day brings our school community together in one heartbeat. Kindergarten to 12th grade now. Students, faculty, staff, parents, and family. We sang Hymn 550, Jesus, O’er the Ramparts, at Maureen’s Celebration of Life. The only other song at Maureen’s funeral was “You Are My Sunshine.” St. Andrew’s Day. A special day. A shared connection. A shared pulse.

My pulse quickened last Friday as our son, Taylor, approached the podium. 14 years after his first St. Andrew’s Day, Taylor reached out his right hand to shake it with head of school, Sean Murphy. They then turned to face the photographer, plaque in hand, and smiled. Maureen and my little boy were holding a piece of glass engraved with the words, “Outstanding Alumni Award.” He became its youngest recipient. The details of the award, and Taylor’s acceptance, can be found here. However, as Taylor said from the podium, “this award is not about me.” This #IHaveBeenProvoked post is about something bigger, too.

The Starfish Story

It is about connections and starfish. To frame the setting for the rest of this blog post, I share the starfish story Taylor told in both his senior homily on the two year anniversary of his mom’s passing on October 21, 2016, as well as last Friday on St. Andrew’s Day.

In the dark months following Maureen’s passing, we could have stayed on the beach, watching the tide go out. However, as the holidays unfolded, and we ‘celebrated’ our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without my beloved bride and the kids’ beautiful mom, we were wrapped in love. Someone was walking down our beach, reached out, picked us up. That is the power of love. Sometimes the pulse we share is for a fleeting moment, but it is enough. As Taylor has also noted, “love has no size. It is neither big or small. It is just love. And, it is enough.

During St. Andrew’s Day, we were also blessed by a special sermon. From Miles Brandon, founder of St. Julian of Norwich here in Austin, and husband of Ashley Brandon, one of St. Andrew’s chaplains. He spoke of love, connection, and St. Andrew, first disciple of Jesus. He was right. It is indeed all connected. Because on the morning of October 21, 2014, as I went to tell Taylor of his mom’s passing and then the girls, Kyla and Katelyn, Ashley was there. In love. In the middle school conference room and then as we walked from the 31st Street campus of St. Andrew’s to Ascension Seton Hospital around the corner, where the kids hugged their mom one last time. Her heart may not have been beating any longer, but her love was in that room on the 7th floor. God was in that room.

The gymnasium that houses St. Andrew’s Day also houses many other activities, including sporting events, like volleyball. My pulse not only quickened when Kyla (senior) and her sister (Katelyn) took the court for the first time in August as fellow Varsity players, but in late September at Dig Pink. The fourth for Kyla. The first for Katelyn. Over the four years, Dig Pink has raised over $30K to fund metastatic breast cancer research, through the Side-Out Foundation, including this year’s record-setting $14,004. Not only was the gymnasium a sea of pink, but we shared a single heartbeat as we honored not just Maureen and others our community has lost but the survivors in our midst. And, the Sunday before St. Andrew’s Day, the girls and I sat in a different room. The Four Seasons. For the Seton Development Board gala, telling our story in the Mission Video, as funds were raised for the Seton Breast Care Center. As Kyla develops #pinkkids in collaboration with Ascension Seton, where her mom passed, she considers Seton family. As the Mission Video unfolded, we didn’t just shed collective tears. We were connected by love. We shared a pulse. We were connected in a singular mission to expand care and access to services through the Seton Breast Care Center.

These are our starfish. And, as Taylor noted at the conclusion of his comments, “Find a starfish. Pick it up. The splash it makes and the ripple it creates will be bigger than we can ever imagine.” For me, my starfish have names. Kethan. Maureen. Andrea. Nicki. Alicia. Pam. Loriana. Allison. Doug. A little boy that faced three relapses of leukemia and succumbed to pneumonia. A wife and mom diagnosed while pregnant with our daughter, who recurred 6 years later and succumbed to pleural effusions from the metastasis of her breast cancer. A courageous warrior facing ovarian cancer that although compassionate use failed her inspired others to be sure it didn’t fail others. A thriving survivor of breast cancer and curator of Beyond the Pink Moon, a private community of “lovelies” on Facebook. A three-time survivor and founder and curator of #bcsm, an incredible social media community on Twitter and beyond. A dedicated member of the Ascension Seton team, powerful and inspiring advocate, and stage 3 survivor of her own breast cancer diagnosis. An award-winning TV news anchor, survivor of leukemia, facing a recent diagnosis of breast cancer, an unfortunate and unacceptable outcome of previous treatment for her leukemia. A wife and mom facing metastatic stage IV ovarian cancer. A dear friend facing stage IV metastatic lung cancer, who never smoked.

These are my starfish, and I theirs. These beautiful human beings are why I do what I do. Why #IHaveBeenProvoked. Why my pulse quickens. Every time I see a diagnosis of not just those I know, but those I don’t, something moves within me. Before that fateful day in late 2003, when Maureen received her diagnosis, cancer always happened on somebody else’s beach. This beach is now mine. There are days where I could be the man and look up the shoreline and see too many starfish to save. But my desire to #changethefight with cancer is too strong. Whether through SilverLining and CLOUD, my philanthropic efforts with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Susan G. Komen, I choose instead, like Maureen and my children with their #onething, to be the boy. To lean down one more time. To pick up another starfish. To love. To seek life. To seek connection. Because as Taylor also noted on St. Andrew’s Day, “together, we can save the world.

Oh, and back to that baseball game. For those that know our family’s story. 21 is Maureen’s way of poking her love into the world. Her way of reaching out from heaven. Saying hello. Whether it is the table number 21 at What-a-Burger in Phoenix as Taylor headed to Yosemite with high school friends on their senior trip or the table number getting espresso in Brooklyn when Kyla, Katelyn, and I were in New York to sprinkle Maureen’s ashes at the Statue of Liberty where I had proposed, it shows up.

And last Friday night, after St. Andrew’s Day, Taylor, Kyla, and I had our traditional pizza night, like we had done with Maureen so many, many times since they were each young. We were watching Good Will Hunting. I remember watching this movie with Maureen at the theater right after we had moved to Austin. It was a moving film then. And now. It came out 3 years before Taylor was born. 8 years before Maureen’s diagnosis. Little did we know then that she, like the wife of Robin William’s character in the film, would face both cancer and its consequences.

As Sean talked about his love for his wife in the movie, he shared a story with Will. About a baseball game. Sean wasn’t at that game. His pulse quickened that day because it was his first date with his future wife. He skipped the game. At the same time, though, back in Fenway Park, a ball left a bat in perhaps the greatest World Series game ever. On October 21, 1975. We love you Maureen. We will never stop saving starfish. ❤️⚾️❤️