Monday, October 23rd 2017

On the “30th anniversary of AIDS”

7 nights in tents, 3,000 cyclists + 500 miles. The 10th annual AIDS ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles made octagon-fighters look like wimps

DAVID RICKEY — As we marked the “30th anniversary of AIDS,” we acknowledged that many people on this cycling marathon at one time were fighting for their lives.

I suddenly realized that I personally know several people who have been infected with the HIV virus for 31+ years, and are still alive!

The AIDS Lifecycle Ride was both a testament to the continuing need for cure and treatment and a potent source of healing in its own right.

The AIDS virus entered the human bloodstream probably in late 1979. I can remember visiting, in 1980 as a student chaplain, gay men who were experiencing what was called the “Gay Plague.” The symptoms were various: pneumonia-like, intense fatigue, but the cause could not be determined.

The virus was discovered, isolated and named in 1981, hence the “anniversary.”

In those early years, AIDS was considered a death sentence.

It was only a matter of time.

The Evolution of Living with HIV

From the beginning, AIDS carried a huge double-stigma.

The disease itself

was terrifying, leading to certain death. And since no one knew how it was transmitted, anyone with the disease was treated like a leper.

But also, in most people’s minds it was associated with being “Gay.”

I counseled one man whose primary fear wasn’t dying; it was admitting to the world that he was “Homosexual.”
Soon the scourge was seen as affecting Homosexuals, Hemophiliacs, Heron Addicts, and Haitians. Out of this, the phrase “4H Club” became a bad joke:

What’s the hardest part of being HIV+ ?

Convincing your parents that you are Haitian.

The first signs of hope didn’t come until around 1987. But it wasn’t hope for surviving, but for care and perhaps a certain longevity. There was AZT, which seemed to offer a bit more time, albeit with strong side-effects like severe anemia.

In November of 1987, the first Music For Life concert took place at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Top musicians like Leonard Bernstein, Yo Yo Ma, Leontine Price, Marilyn Horne, Murray Perahia, members of the New York Philharmonic and many others donated their talents and time for this fundraiser for the Gay Men’s Health Center in New York.

I attended that concert and experienced an incredible rush of energy. Here were thousands of people in the audience who had paid as much as $10,000 for a ticket to join with the crème de la crème of the classical music world because they cared about people who were dying of AIDS, many of whom were themselves in the audience. I know for a fact that this event changed the course of many people’s lives.

Two things happened that night. The obvious was the millions of dollars raised that night — near the end of a presidency where Ronald Reagan didn’t mention AIDS a single time in office — for care and services for people with AIDS. The less obvious but, I believe, more important was the consciousness shift in those who were infected. No longer feeling like pariahs, now they experienced an overwhelming sense of being loved and cared about.

And that brought about healing.

Caring for others heals yourself

Keith Herring, The Life of Christ, 1981, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

The Annual AIDS/Lifecycle Ride does much the same thing. It generates a large amount of money, but it also demonstrates love and compassion.

And there are two forms of healing.

First, the healing energy generated by those who train for and ride this arduous route from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I believe, has a definite effect on people living with HIV.

Second, I have seen that when people infected with HIV are able, themselves, to volunteer in an event like this, they contribute to their own healing. By giving of themselves for others, to what ever capacity they are able, they transform their own consciousness from Victim to Victor. This releases tremendous healing energy within themselves.

This is true for any illness. When you reach out to help others who have the same illness as you do, both of you heal faster.

AIDS is no longer a death sentence.

There have been wondrous progress in treatment so that for most HIV+ people living today the disease is manageable with various combinations of drugs. However, the need for supportive treatment, compassion and understanding continues. Unfortunately, because of all this, the need for prevention education, especially in the poorer communities, is even more needed.

I applaud those who rode and those who supported them, and hope for the day when this ride will be no longer needed.

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