|After 100 miles on a bicycle...great day all around!|
The old saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words” could never be truer than in someone’s facial expression when I say, “I’m riding my bicycle 100 miles.” Eyes usually widen with disbelief, followed by a little slack jaw. Maybe one eyebrow is above the other to say Yeah, right. More often than not, the sentiment I get here in Southern California is “Dude, that’s intense!” Have no doubt that the surfer dialect has been thoroughly integrated into the Queen’s English in this part of the country.
October 15 marked the third time I’ve mounted my bicycle to raise money for organizations that help people living with HIV and AIDS. It may come across as trite to say that my life was changed by participating in an event like this. But, to a person, everyone I’ve spoken with who gets involved finishes with a different outlook on both the disease and the people as a whole. As a freelance writer, I’ve penned articles that address the pandemic that is AIDS, the statistics, and the impact that the disease has made. It’s not pretty…and it’s not over.
There is more to the story than the cold facts, even though some of those facts are pointing at people living with HIV rather than dying from AIDS. Granted, we tend to focus on the important rather than the urgent when we are faced with the prospect of our own mortality, but far from self-pity, my experience with the people who are HIV-positive on these rides has been nothing short of inspirational. The courage, enthusiasm, and attitude give my petty complaints a healthy smack-down and lift me back up with a revitalized perspective. I have also had the opportunity to meet an incredible cadre of dedicated people who span every segment of society who just want to do something to help.
Suffice it to say, during the course of the many, many miles cycled in training and the events themselves, there’s a tremendous amount of time where the only thing around is the road and nothing else. I’ve ridden through the farmlands of Minnesota where I saw nothing but corn fields for as far as the eye could see and the thin strip of asphalt pulling me onward in spite of a saddle-sore posterior, aching shoulders and knees, and numbed hands. It brings you to your physical and emotional end at some point and you come to the stark realization that it’s not about you, numbskull! The very memory of that epiphany brings a healthy lump to my throat. It’s amazing to find a fellow veteran rider where in an instant, we communicate the unsaid about coming to that particular point and the tears come. Deep indeed calls to deep.
People don’t want to talk about disease as if speaking its name invokes some horrible demon who will inflict suffering. The sad irony is that talking about HIV and what causes it can prevent it. Certainly, there’s a time and place for certain sensitive subjects, but to avoid the uncomfortable nature of sexually transmitted infections or to assert that HIV is divine retribution for deviating from some arbitrary plan is analogous to pointing an accusing finger at an innocent child for contracting cancer. It’s time to look past the why someone has a physical infirmity of any kind and look toward improving their lives.
Here’s the crux of what I want to say: you can—we all can—make a difference in someone’s life. It’s not in my nature to play the guilt card on someone, but I can say for me, I think it’s crucially important to get outside the comfort zone and give out of my abundance. I may not be wealthy, but I have enough. That said, giving does make me wealthy in a way. Whether it’s in writing a check to a charitable organization or raising funds for a cause, I feel it is my obligation to improve someone’s life much the same way I felt it crucial to serve my country in the US Navy. Fundraising is not my forté, but it has taught me well that those with the most generous heart aren’t always the ones with the biggest donations. It also proved to me that friendship is tried when money is involved and those friends who not only throw you a couple of clams toward making a fundraising goal are more likely to be there for you when you really need them. What has touched me the most was receiving a donation from people who sacrificed out of their own need. It brought back the best of what spirituality has to teach us all and flies in the face of those who would use their brand of religion to condemn rather than heal. The parable of the “Good Samaritan” never resonated more.
While I have the physical ability and strength, I can participate in these events for someone else; while I have time, I can do something or just be with one who needs a helping hand or a smiling face; and of course, while I have financial resources, I’ll continue to be as generous as I can. If you want to feel fulfilled, I encourage you to find a cause you can throw yourself into and give someone a meal, a smile, a reason to hope. I encourage you to make a positive difference…I can’t guarantee it’ll change your life like it did mine, but then again, you never know. It just might be intense, dude!
The event I rode in was the Orange County Ride for AIDS. While it wasn’t the point of this post, I hope you’ll consider donating toward my 545-mile bicycle trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the 2012 AIDS LifeCycle. You can visit my page here…or you can ride with me. I’d be honored to have you along. If HIV/AIDS isn't the charity of choice for you, find what inspires you and get involved. You'll be *so* glad you did!
This posting was originally published November 8, 2011. I've split my writing into different blogs: Opinion, The Leukemia Chronicles, and other Freelance Writing