by Dana-Susan Crews, September 2022
Many years ago, I taught a six-week long unit on the Holocaust and I remember walking through the Holocaust museum and seeing a large display of shoes from victims at the death camp Auschwitz. Of all the displays, this one got to me the most because shoes tell us so much about the person wearing them. Shoes tell us their age, their hobbies, their job, their interests, their fashion sense. Shoes that were worn by real people who did not deserve this brutal death.
Yesterday, as we wrapped up CureFest for Childhood Cancer, I didn't think I had any more tears left in me. After all, I spent days hearing stories and meeting children battling diseases no one should have to battle and meeting parents who have buried their babies. I will share more of those stories later, but suffice to say, cancer is an evil monster that steals the lives of almost 2,000 kids each year and it makes me angry beyond imagination.
Just when I thought I was dried up of all my tears, I made my way to the Washington Monument and saw the display of shoes. There they were - 1,800 pairs of shoes. Shoes that were once worn by kids. Teenagers. Tweens. Babies. Shoes that were filled with real feet that should still be walking about, but instead are no longer here because every single year in the United States of America, 1,800 kids die of cancer.
Shoes tell us so much about the person wearing them. As I walked through the display, I saw many sizes and colors and shapes and I closed my eyes and thought about the feet inside them and the cruelty of the fact that those precious kids are gone.
This one obviously liked to play basketball. This one was a cowboy. This one liked to run track. This one was a pretty little princess. This one was a ballerina. This one liked to jump in puddles in the rain. This one liked Disney. This one rode horses. This one liked walking in the snow. This one was a fahionista. This one liked his cozy slippers. This one was too little to walk because her baby shoes were smaller than my pinky finger.
Piles and piles of empty shoes! I had finally had enough and sat on the ground to weep. I prayed for the families, many of whom were sitting there by their kids' shoes in dead silence, grief-stricken and almost in "shell shock".
A beautiful young mom came walking up to lay her daughter's shoes on the ground along with her photo. Her precious daughter, Trinity, took her final breath three months ago thanks to the hideous monster DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma). Tears poured down her face. I hugged her and told her that Trinity is absolutely beautiful and she let me take her photo.
I talked to a young man who was taking a photo of his son's shoes. I asked him about his son and he smiled so big and proudly told me about his seven-year-old boy who took his final breath just months ago. He was such a cutie pie.
As CureFest was coming to an end, the bereaved parents gathered around the shoes and we had a moment of silence before we walked around the monument with these parents in the lead. We all have vowed to never forget these little lives. They mattered. They still matter.
Before I walked away, I took one final peak at those shoes and it struck me that all of these tiny feet are walking along streets of Gold with Jesus. It is hard to grasp and not everyone shares my faith, but I believe that as I am here wearing gold for them, they are on those gold streets and they are free of cancer. They are not suffering. They are shining with God's glory and someday I will meet them face to face.
I wish those shoes were still filled with the feet of the precious humans who wore them right here on planet Earth. I wish no child had to suffer at the evil hands of cancer. I wish no young parent had to watch their child suffer from this devastating disease. I wish that the legislators in that town would wake up and increase funding to bring these diseases to an end. I wish I could take the pain of every single parent there away and set them free. Until that day comes, I made a promise when I was a seven-year-old girl that I would fight for them. So, I will return next year and sadly, I know there will be another display of 1,800 shoes because the fight is nowhere near finished. Another 1,800 kids will go on to the streets of gold and I will wear my gold for them.