Have you ever loved a place? Has a special location acted like an essential character in the story of you? I wouldn't be who I am without Pittsburgh. From the early days of sitting in the cheap seats of Three Rivers Stadium, cheering on the Pirates while simultaneously scoping out cute boys with my dad's binoculars, to learning how to teach braille in the classrooms of Posvar Hall and how to cross 5th Avenue wearing a blindfold and carrying a long cane. I love the history of the city -- its resilience, scrappiness, and creativity. But most of all, I love the warmth of the people and their willingness to embrace opportunities to make a difference in the world.
There is an organization in Pittsburgh whose only goal is to help families who are dealing with a parent's life-limiting health condition to forget about the illness and focus on time together; to give them an opportunity to feel what life was like before the diagnosis; to just enjoy a day without worrying about the future, treatment, sickness, or financial hardship. Their name is One Day To Remember, and they are dedicated to creating lasting and meaningful memories for children of a parent suffering from a life-limiting illness.
Over the Fourth of July Weekend, that is exactly what they did for my kids and me. I won't lie: I'm overwhelmed at the idea of trying to put the experience into words, but I'm going to try...
Rachel, the founder of ODTR, has been in regular communication with me for months so that she could prioritize the opportunities that the boys and I wanted to experience on our trip "home" to Pittsburgh. She had some great ideas, and was excited by some of mine, so it felt like a true collaboration. She was far more considerate of my needs around fatigue and energy than I ever would have been for myself. Also, she's been working for years to build relationships with various businesses and philanthropies around town, so she had some connections that I never could have even dreamed of.
It all started on the Fourth of July. Pittsburgh's fireworks are launched from a barge at the confluence of the three rivers, with the stadiums, Point State Park fountain, and Mt. Washington inclines as the backdrop. It's stunning, but intimidating to get to because of the city traffic and crowds. One of the lesser talked about side effects of cancer is social anxiety, which makes finding my way through a giant crowd of strangers pretty stressful. But my kids are, thankfully, pretty great at it, so I just stuck with them and they got me where I needed to go. The limo driver that ODTR arranged for us even helped us to find space on a set of steps to sit on.
Thursday night was a gorgeous night.
On Friday, Pilot Brad was waiting for us at the Allegheny County Airport to take us up in the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team's Airvan for a bird's eye view of the city. For some reason, Brad felt like it was a good idea to let me take control of the plane for a few minutes while he sipped his coffee. Not to brag, but he said I was a natural...
Later, we saw my friend Ernie, who I'm pretty sure I haven't seen since the summer after we graduated high school 26 years ago. Then we headed to the Warhol Museum for a private tour with -- I kid you not -- Warhol's nephew, Donald. Imagine moving through that beautiful space, hearing the stories of "Uncle Andy" from his own nephew. After the tour, Don took us to the art studio where we tried our hands at screen printing, ink blotting, and collage-ing. We ended our day with a visit from one of the greatest friends that I never see, Abass. My kids enjoyed tutoring him on the lingo of the new generation.
Screen printing in the art studio at the Warhol Museum
Friday was a fantastic day.
Saturday was all about the Pirates and my relatives -- Famalee and family, if you will. After meeting up with my parents and going to batting practice, several cousins came to town from near and far to enjoy the game with us. I've never hung out in a luxury box before, and probably won't ever again, but if I were going to pick one game to enjoy the opportunity, this is the one I would have chosen. I say that not only because it rained for three hours before they were able to start the game and we enjoyed the shelter, but also because getting to visit with my family without needing to worry about food, drinks, or weather was ideal. We had so much fun, and then the Pirates beat the Brewers 12-2!
All of us real Pirates touch this sign before we take the field.
Saturday was a perfect day.
On our last day, we enjoyed a stroll around Phipps Conservatory (to see two teenage boys stroll around a botanical garden and sincerely enjoy it even though they are mainly in Pittsburgh for the baseball -- it's just so sweet); a trip to the only remaining portion of the outfield wall of historic Forbes Field (complete with a search mission into my old department building at Pitt to find where Home Plate lies encased in plexiglass); and a tour of the Roberto Clemente Museum.
Max and Dalton, watching Mazeroski's walk-off homerun in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series while standing at the wall of Forbes Field
Sunday was a reflective day.
When you read the quote on the side of the building, you can see how affecting it was for his museum to be the capstone of our visit. Roberto Clemente passionately loved baseball and he had a strong sense that his life would be cut short. He worked tirelessly at his craft and to bring opportunities to play to children in need. He died tragically in a mission to take rescue supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Although the hope of One Day to Remember is that our family will be able to take our focus away from my illness for a short time, they also gave me this very special opportunity to contemplate it in a new and rather uplifting way. Clemente found a way to both enjoy his life and use it to change the world for the better. He didn't put anything off; he didn't hide from what he sensed would be his fate; he didn't waste time in mourning when he could be spending it doing good things; and he didn't spend any energy resenting the hard things (specifically, being discriminated against, teased, and whitewashed by teammates and the media). I'm deeply grateful that my dear Pittsburgh, the businesses that welcomed us, Rachel, and the staff at One Day to Remember are all living examples of Clemente's words, and I hope that I can be as well.
This truly is a wild and precious life, and our time in Pittsburgh truly was a wild and precious weekend to remember.