Each year the Canadian Cancer Society creates awareness about the fight against cancer by selling daffodils. In previous years they were live flowers you could get cut or with a bulb so that you could plant them. Now, they are pins.
This year, we got an all-staff email asking us to help out by selling the daffodil pins in subway stations. Normally this is the sort of thing I’d avoid like the plague. It’s very public, and it’s selling stuff. These are two things I don’t do. However, I decided to participate, and I’m very glad I did. It was an amazing opportunity to put myself out there and engage with total strangers for a cause I believe in.
I got the Dundas subway station which is freezing at 7:00 am. Partnered up with another staff member I took the northbound trains, he the south.
Standing out there with my little daffodil box did feel a bit ridiculous. But, I figured if I was going to do this, I was going to do it all the way. So for the next two hours, every time a train stopped and the doors opened, I shouted: Good Morning! April is Cancer Awareness Month! Show your support for the fight against cancer! Support cancer research / support free programs for patients. Sometimes I changed it up and called out some of the programs or asked people to get this season’s best fashion accessory. There wasn’t really one particular line that seemed to work better than another.
Most people avoided me. I noticed most people look down and to the left as they tried to avoid me. Some people gave me truly angry stares as I stood in their path with a daffodil. But ultimately they decided to avoid me, and not engage.
Women were ten times more likely (at least) to donate and take a daffodil than men.
There was no pattern in income. People from all walks of life, from all nationalities, gave.
I had recently watched Amy Palmer’s The Power of Asking TED Talk, and so, I made it a point to hold out a daffodil, not aggressively, just slightly and to look people in the eye.
The most rewarding and most humbling experiences were the people who did stop to donate and take a daffodil. Some just donated, but many stopped to tell me their story. One woman told me how her father was currently fighting cancer and how scared she was, how much stress, how much unknown, how helpless she felt. She had tears in her eyes and I did too by the time she let me give her the daffodil.
People told me about their diagnosis, about their fear, about their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children who had fought cancer. Some survived, others did not.
In the short two hours I was out there asking people to donate money and wear a pin I was able to connect with people, complete strangers, in a very authentic way. As I looked directly at them, in their eyes, they engaged. They paused at the beginning of their very hectic day and shared things that were deeply personal with a me, a complete stranger. Afterwards I would thank them and everyone of them returned the thanks not in that off hand way that we so often do, but in a genuine – look me right in the eyes and let me know this brief moment we shared meant something to them.
I understand that standing on a subway platform selling daffodil pins for pocket change and small bills is pretty much the least I can do in the fight against cancer. But, it was an incredible experience and reminder that almost everyone out there is touched, in some way, by this disease and there is tremendous hope that cancer outcomes can be improved and lives will be saved and treatments will get better.
Full disclosure: I’m a staff member at the Canadian Cancer Society. They are not paying me to write this post. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.