By Jon Melegrito
Gloria and Ben Caoile have been part of our community for it seems like forever, that the thought of them “leaving” is simply hard to imagine. But they have moved their residence to Las Vegas, so I guess that means they are no longer technically Washingtonians.
As always, there are rituals to observe when someone close to our hearts depart. And so grateful friends gathered at a restaurant in Northern Virginia one recent Monday evening for a send-off replete with roasts and toasts and, of course, kodakan.
I thought it fitting on this occasion to reprint a letter from Gloria written two years ago, as my way of affirming who she is, what her family means to each one of us, and the sense of community she inspired:
As we all know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the past, it really didn’t matter much to me. I just knew it was a month when folks wore pink ribbons and participated in some kind of a run on Pennsylvania Avenue. There were lots of TV commercials, radio announcements and news stories about it. I was deluged with “junk mail” as well.
My perception changed on October 10, 2002 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It profoundly changed my life and rocked my world. It also gave me pause to rethink my own career path and my involvement in our town. As everyone knows, I’m constantly in motion in meetings and conferences, on the streets to rally for a cause, often times flying on trouble-shooting missions coast to coast. I still move a lot but the pace now is a lot more measured.
Looking back to that day in October four years ago, I recall being hit really hard as I confronted the reality of this disease. Survival, of course, came to mind immediately. “Why me?” I kept asking. Yet, I was not so much concerned about myself as I was of my husband Ben and our daughter Melanie. How will they take it? But they surprised me. “We’ll lick this together, mom,” I remember Melanie telling me. Instantly, we reversed roles a daughter calmly telling her mother that she’ll take care of her and that everything is going to be all right.
But next to Ben and Melanie, our community our town<D> was there for me as well. Soon as the word got out, I was bombarded with get-well wishes. Many phoned and e-mailed to say they were keeping me in their thoughts and prayers. But the most heartening message was from folks who confided that they too battled this big “C” themselves. Some even shared special tips on how they managed to get around the bad side effects of treatment. We laughed. We cried. We had a special pink sorority going.
Our town was the best medicine (again, second to Ben, Melanie and my family) one could ever take. So who cares if we have l0l different Fil Am organizations. They are all good people, doing good things. Who else has two big Galas on the same night? I guess we just have so many things to celebrate. Next time, let’s talk about one giant gala and celebrate all we can in one evening. What other community can generate so much excitement on the internet based on one person’s opinion. It’s challenging and envigorating, and we get passed it at the end of the day. What other community can balance so many local activities and still have so much passion left for helping our different projects at home? What other community can survive a centennial and have so much energy left for the next centennial? There’s so much more we’d like to do, especially in the political arena voter mobilization, electing FilAms to public office. But given what’s already in the pipeline, I feel a renewed sense of hope that we’ll do so much better in the next one hundred years.
So as I try to remember the daunting challenge I had to face on October l0, 2002, I am truly heartened by the thought that what got me through an earthshaking personal experience was our own town’s capacity to face its own challenges and move forward.
Given our cheerful spontaneity, we may not always contain our own chaos. But then again, I totally believe that our town can shake this earth and still put the pieces together with a can-do spirit that summons simply the best from deep within ourselves.
As I look back to all those good times and bad that we as a community faced over the years, I am reminded of these lines from a Judy Collins song:
“We’re dancers on a crowded floor, While other dancers live from song to song, Our music goes on, on and on.”
Thank you Gloria and Ben for the best dance of our lives. For that, we’ll never say goodbye. How could we ever say goodbye?
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