One of the joys of being in Minneapolis and St Paul is walking next to the Mississippi River. I didn't know before I came here that the river flowed through this part of the world. (In my mind the river only existed in the south somewhere, courtesy of Mark Twain).
But, as it turns out, it's just behind the university where I'm staying and I've tried everyday to find time to stroll beside it. It's special. Sometimes I climb down from the path to sit on a rock ledge and watch it flow.
A couple of days ago, I went down there for a walk. It was a particularly hot and humid afternoon. I arrived to find dozens of walkers streaming past, decked out in various combinations of pink and purple clothing. Their faces were flushed and some were walking gingerly. Most walked in groups, others in pairs, a few on their own. Clearly they had been walking for a long time and it seemed they had a distance to go.
I considered turning back, thinking my half hour of quiet reflection now seemed ruined. But I’d come this far, so I decided to press on.
I soon worked out that the event was a fundraiser to tackle breast cancer. The walkers wore tops saying "find a cure" or "walking 60 miles" and things like that.
I thought “good on them", as we say, and turned my mind to other things, articles I would like to write, the movement of the river.
And then I saw a guy with a picture of a woman on his t-shirt.
I didn't get a good look at him (or her) but I had time to read words. "I would walk forever to bring her back".
I walked on for a bit and then thought about it again. “I would walk forever to bring her back". Then I started to cry, tears streaming down from behind my sun glasses. It must have been his wife and it was the saddest thing I had ever seen.
I've cried about that guy and his t-shirt again in the days since I saw him. I'm not sure why it's hit me so deeply.
My life has certainly been touched by cancer in the past couple of years. My mother has survived one close encounter with the illness and my father was diagnosed earlier this year. I would walk to the end of the earth if I though it would find him a cure.
So I’m sure some of the impact comes from the many fears I've kept bottled up inside me. I’m glad these are starting to find their way out.
But what made the t-shirt so achingly sad wasn’t what it said about cancer.
It was what it said about love. That it goes on forever, even after one of us leaves.
It was good to be reminded how special my loved ones are to me, especially when I’m so far from home. And it’s possible I would have had these realizations back in Sydney, in my office or on the train heading to work. But I don’t think so. I think my mind turned that way because I was walking by the Mississippi River.