October 20, 2009
Weekend before last, I had a request to put into a page or two some of the things that Erin did for others. Here's what I wrote:
A POSTSCRIPT TO ERIN’S LIFE
Erin led a normal life and volunteered as her age allowed. She spent time at the Brazos Food Pantry, the Animal Shelter, and as a Habitat for Humanity gopher with her church youth group. She assisted with Hot Shot Soccer (a pre-school program) when needed and served as a classroom mentor to a 2nd grade class. Her biggest passion was to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer research, both through public and private channels. She successfully lobbied Congress and also created artful and whimsical beaded lanyards which she traded for donations to the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation. We will posthumously donate the proceeds from her planned cookbook, Erin Cooks, to pediatric cancer research.
Erin lived with joy and vigor. When she died, we changed the name of her website to reflect on both her life and legacy. It became:
Let’s Do It!
Welcome to Erin’s Home
Where Her Family and Friends Follow
Her Example of Living with Gusto Every Day.
What Verb Do You Choose?
The "Let's Do It!" part honors Erin by repeating the phrase I heard her say so often. She didn't want to put things off until she felt better. She didn't want to wait until the weather improved or for the path to clear. I never felt her hesitate once she made up her mind. She always wanted to grab life by the throat and go more places and do more things. The phrase also challenges all of us (family, friends, distant and unmet friends) to continue down that path, to live with gusto, to live with grace, to live like an arrow flying towards its target, AND to do it together. Erin, as inclusive as anyone I ever met, would emphasize the all of us in Let's Do It. The final phrase invokes my favorite metaphor for Erin: she lived like a verb. . .an action verb. Her friends have taken up the suggestion to choose a verb and go do it. They cook, drive, run, laugh, hug, work hard, play hard, and serve and inspire others.
In the wake of her death many people took up the challenge to live like a verb. We received regular messages from folks who were tackling triathlons and marathons and others who were working to improve themselves and the world around them. Groups also got moving. The elementary children at 1st Presbyterian Church in Bryan, changed the name of their annual mission day to the Let’s Do It! Mission Day. The First United Methodist Church honored her with a weeklong food drive in her honor to show the kids at their Creative Arts Camp what a difference a child can make. Jane Long Middle School established a scholarship in her memory. The A&M Methodist Church has commissioned an anthem in her honor, which will have its world premiere January 24, 2010. By next fall, at-risk middle school students may walk into a newly forming after-school program, past a banner proclaiming "Let's Do It!"
The biggest surprise has been that the ripples have continued beyond the weeks after her death, particularly for the project closest to her heart. What do you suppose connects the following list of people?
· A deaf woman in Minnesota
· A New York City Bat Mitzvah celebrant
· A Santa Fe soccer coach
· A USMC Colonel, retired
· A wheelchair bound girl scout
· A North Carolina rugby player
· Two sisters on a Baltic cruise
· The starting tackle on the Jane Long Middle School “A” team
· A divinity student at Princeton
· A dean at Tufts University
· Teachers in Indiana, California, Texas, and Michigan
These are just a few of the more than 300 people who have logged thousands of volunteer hours in the last six months, creating and distributing Erin’s Dream Lanyards and inspiring others to follow Erin’s example to live and serve with joy and vigor. Workshops, which started in our living room, are springing up all over the country: Seattle, Scottsdale, upstate Pennsylvania, Minneapolis, New York City, Rockville, Maryland, and in communities all over central and coastal Texas. Girl scouts, youth groups, soccer teams, college dorm residents, YMCA campers, and just plain folks have held lanyard workshops and sponsored bead drives. This grassroots movement (read more at http://chooseaverb.blogspot.com) has multiplied the personal effect Erin had on raising money for neuroblastoma research geometrically in a very short while.
If you have any doubt that Erin is a true point of light, take a night walk and look up into a clear sky towards Ursa Minor (RA 17h46m5.68s D80°16’10.76”). If you look in just the right spot you will see the Erin Channing Buenger star, registered in her memory in the International Star Registry by a Carrollton, Texas couple. Her light will continue to shine for a long, long time.
I think we can say that at least some have taken to heart what President Obama said as he concluded his remarks about Erin by observing that we can serve even when we have challenges in our lives: "Each of us has a role to play, and all of us have something to contribute."