In my last post I wrote about the tension between small acts of charity and the desire to execute large-scale charity events to show my support of any given issue or idea. How do we enact change in our own lives, how do we support causes we believe in, while also living a busy live? How do we embody the change we want to see in the world? These were some of the questions I struggle with, especially after a 9-5 job, an aging job, and a long distance relationship.
A lot of what I do does involve crafting.A lot of it involves writing and talking, like my work with Support1000. I plan outreach events. I write a blog. I knit hats for charity, or raise money for animal shelters. I do it all with friends and colleagues, often in my pajamas, from the comfort of my own house (like right now...).
But when one of my best friends asked me to sign up for the annual Ride for Aids Chicago, I said "sure!" There was not only something appealing about taking part of an event I was not organizing, but I looked forward to challenging myself physically. The Ride For Aids Chicago is a 200 mile, 2 day charity bicycling event, so in a mere 5 days I will set out with approximately 400 other riders to bike up to Wisconsin and back. 200 miles in 2 days has me slightly terrified, but I know this event will be amazingly life changing.
Riding in this event has asked more of me than I originally thought, and demanded I examine my own reasons for riding, for pushing my body to its physical limits, for asking my friends and family to help me raise $1000 for HIV/AIDS services (and I only have $195 to go!) I jumped at the chance to participate in this ride, but couldn't quite figure out why. Obviously being part of a group of people actively fighting to both find treatment for HIV/AIDS and fight the stigma against those diagnosed with it was appealing to me - I grew up in a community where an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was not uncommon,and many of the people I met had lost partners, but there was more. When asked "why are you riding?" or trying to explain to people why they should give me money for this ride, I tripped over explanations. I didn't know why, but I had to do this ride.
This was, coincidentally, happening on the 30th anniversary of the first diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. NPR and other major news sources reflected on the last 30 years, the changing disease, treatments, and social reactions. The profound stories explored how in just 30 years, the HIV/AIDS epidemic had, in many ways, changed the world.
It hit me. I didn't know a world without HIV/AIDS. I was born in 1986, a few years after the initial outbreak of HIV/AIDS, when it was still a "gay disease",and people were dying, untreated and shamed. By the time I hit my late teens and started understanding how and why HIV/AIDS existed and spread, we were past the age of toxic cocktails and rampant disease. HIV was a way of life that we had come to accept - no matter how terrible the diagnosis was, it was no longer shocking or, sadly, even unexpected. I had grown up in a world where AIDS had a gravity unlike any other disease, and I had accepted that as a way of life.
As a 24 year old woman, I've grown up in the "in between" stages of HIV/AIDS. I will never experience the horror of the early 80's when, misunderstood, HIV/AIDS wreaked havoc on the gay community. Now, since I am able to take precautions, I don't have to worry as much about the spread of disease as it makes its way across Africa, where 2/3 of all HIV/AIDS cases are diagnosed. Now, in 2011, we say that an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, and I know many healthy, happy friends who were diagnosed with HIV.
But it's there. And it's still an epidemic. It's an epidemic we've accepted, an epidemic that will be part of my life - and everyone else's - from now on. It's why we get tested regularly, are careful, and treat those three letters - HIV - like the new scarlet letter. That's why I'm riding - for a better future. I don't accept HIV/AIDS as a way of life for anyone. If we've come this far in 30 years, well, then let's keep riding forward until the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a memory.