Thursday, November 20, 2008

Life Experiences that Define You [Part II]

I realized I created a post asking others to define their life experiences but forgot to share my own. My story begins when I decided to sign up for a 545 mile bike ride, perhaps to find myself. Little did I know three months before the big ride I'd be partially hospitalized at a psych hospital. The ride gave new meaning to my journey. I wrote the following passage a week or so after the ride.

On the last night before our final final ride we filed on to the Santa Barbara beach, creating a 2500 candle light vigil. We stood there in a circle, silent. Men were crying, others were consoling. Jason, a comedian i walked with to the beach that night said to me in a whisper, "You know what? you're the enlightened one. We... I have to be here. Of the eleven friends that are here with me tonight, nine of them are HIV positive. My best friend died two years ago and I rode with his mom the next year. I'm still angry that we continue to do this every year. It should be over by now. But here you are coming all the way from New York not knowing anyone on this chose to be here when you didn't have to. You should be proud of what you've accomplished."

One by one, candles were walked to the shore and extinguished with those little waves that roll to your toes. Jason told me it represents the life of someone living with HIV: slowly you see them walk away from you, and then their light is gone. He said to me, "Now I have to go home a deal with how fucking angry i am." I told him that maybe he can let go of his anger as he distinguishes the flame. He tried it. He came back from the shore and gave me a hug. We went our separate ways. Afterwards i stood there on the beach by myself and looked up and out onto the stars and cried. Whatever was in me, I just cried it out and gave it up to my God.

That is the experience I remember but rarely share. I thought of Shaun* that night. I thought of him during the ride, when the hills were tough. I asked him for courage and I hoped I was doing him right by this ride. And when i was alone on the bumpy road and the meds weren't working I imagined a hug from a loved one. That's what it took to get me through. When everything was depleted, all I needed was a hug. Everyone in my life somehow became a part of that ride. Whether I was happy, exhausted, in awe or trying to get by, I felt the most alive I've felt in a very very long time.

I read in a magazine article interviewing Archbishop Desmond Tutu that a person is a person through other persons. I have always searched and looked far and near for my meaning, my way, my voice. But now I feel i have actually covered some distance and learned something. Tutu says it again, "I need you to be all of who you are in order for me to be all that I am." That is what I've come away with on this 545 mile ride.

*Shaun was a student at my alma mater. He was born with AIDS. Although I didn't attend school during the same time as he, my mentor/teacher, Fr. Albert, worked closely with him. Both of his parents died from AIDS when he was little so his grandmother took care of him. Then she past away from cancer his junior year. Fr. Albert helped him find a foster home and brought him from school to home or to the hospital when he was too weak. A few weeks after he graduated, Shaun past away. Fr. Albert gave the mass at his funeral. I didn't know Shaun personally, but Fr. Albert helped me get through so much over the years I wanted to give something back to him. Riding in his honor was my gesture.

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