The Human Cause

Raising awareness of HIV and AIDS one mile at a time.

Archive for the month “October, 2010”

Lemonade Best Laid

Friday, 4:15 pm. South I-15 Friars Road exit. Five short minutes from home after five full days at work. So close to the weekend, to my PJs, a nice dinner in, and some cherished downtime with my pup and my love. Really? Telling Carol about a weekend assignment, I have this sudden fear that I left the folder with all the necessary papers at UCSD. Not in my office where I can easily, though inconveniently, get to it. Instead, it’s sitting on the counter at the UCSD General Store where I set it down when I stopped to make a purchase (darn those M&Ms). In my mind, I try to recall putting the folder in the back of the car, try to feel it in my hand as I walked from the store down Gilman to meet Carol. It isn’t there. I remember the colors of the M&Ms pouring them into my hand, two or three at time. I remember really enjoying them. I don’t remember awkwardly carrying a folder. We stop at a light. I crawl to the back of the car – nope, not there. REALLY?

I put my iPhone into action for something more than cruising facebook or checking the traffic. I Google the General Store, and give them a call. Yes! My folder is there. The store is closed but folks will be around for another couple of hours for a meeting. The nice young man remembers me stopping in and says just to come by. I say, “Darn those M&Ms.” He replies, “Darn that chocolatey, peanutty goodness.” Humor. Levity. I needed both.

Relief. Crisis averted, the tears began to flow. A trip back to work wasn’t in my plans for Friday evening. I’m exhausted. I just need a break. Enter Carol. She is so gentle with me when I get into such a pout, gifted at getting me to refocus and find how to see something not so positive as a gift. Earlier in the week, we had packed our dinner and the dog and headed to the beach to enjoy the warm October evening before the light leaves with the time change. We’ll just do it again. Our errand-turned-adventure started taking shape. We stopped by the house, threw together dinner, grabbed Birdie and then returned to the scene of the middle-aged moment.

A loving nudge from Carol to shift my perspective allowed me to enjoy the ride. Birdie stood the entire time tuned in to everything going on around her. Like Jasmine, she’s a “go dog.” Folder safely in hand, we had a Groundhog Day moment as we once again drove down Gilman to I-5. This time, we got it right. Mission Bay was the scene (two middle-aged women eating dinner in their truck, their dog, a black Standard Poodle, longing for a dinner of water fowl just outside the window). The changing light created spectacular images painting water and sky. All Birdie could do was sit patiently in the truck longing for her time to explore this new territory. Toward the end of our walk, we ran into two friends from UCSD, one a former colleague I hadn’t seen in several years. The gifts kept coming on this Friday night that hadn’t been part of my plan. Things were going my way. Really.

The year I was away from UCSD with a work-induced injury was a difficult time in my life. Dealing with worker’s comp and an insensitive surgeon added to the physical and emotional pain. But during that lemon-filled year, the lemonade flowed endlessly. In the spring, my Uncle Butch lost his battle with lymphoma. Being off work, I was able to be with my mom as she went through the grief of losing her baby brother. In the summer, my cherished companion, Jasmine, succumbed to cancer. Those last few months home with her were priceless. And my dear friend, Claire, was just beginning her battle with lymphoma. Her good days gave us time to just be together, her bad days gave us lessons in love. We all thought she’d beat her lymphoma. The odds were way in her favor, especially with a sibling match for a bone marrow transplant. When she passed in the spring of the following year, that time we spent together was a gift that helped me through my grief.

The older we get, the more we face death. We lose loved ones, we struggle with our own health, we face our own mortality. With Claire, I learned about battling a life-threatening illness and getting through the day with small victories. I didn’t learn these lessons first hand, but because of Claire and too many other cherished friends, I try to embrace what it means to live life as if you were dying. To take the lemons and make the lemonade even in what seems to be life’s most trivial moments. And Carol is there to remind me that mostly, life is full of trivial moments.

So I’ll take those darn M&Ms – with a splash of lemonade. This was yesterday’s tasty “Flavor of the Day” – what’s today’s?


Comfort Zone

Sunny and seventy in San Diego. Sweet cycling weather – in the middle of the week. It’s out there and I’m in here sitting at the computer. A quick glance at the weather shows Saturday at 65° with a 30% chance of rain. My heart sinks at the thought of another Saturday not on my bike because of a little rain. Now I’m sitting at the computer sulking. Oh how soft I’ve become, now one of those people who is happy with the weather only when the temperature falls within my 10-degree comfort zone. I love the rain, but not on the weekend, not when I want/need to be on the road.

In my early days as a cyclist, I just rode. No matter the weather, I rode. I was overweight, out of shape and in training for my first century and every mile counted; my anal-retentive nature served me well as I logged every single recommended mile that first program.

In my defense, I was born and raised in San Diego. Cold? Snow? Heat? Humidity? Temperate is my middle name.  A few years of the cold and damp in Santa Cruz conditioned me for a time. But like getting into shape vs. getting out of shape, the fall back to my former self was rapid. Now walking the dog on a sub 60-degree evening requires gloves and a hat. Brrr.

We all have our comfort zones, with weather and other things. And we are all familiar with being sick and not feeling ourselves. Some of us have battled chronic pain or live with a lifelong illness; too many I know are battling for their lives – cancer, MS, HIV/AIDS. Come next June, the weather won’t matter. It can’t matter. The ride is set, the routes are all planned. Heat, humidity, wind, rain, dust storms – whatever Mother Nature throws at us, we’ll have to conquer. Aches, pains, upset stomach, a cold, a toothache – whatever our bodies throw at us, we’ll have to adjust to a new comfort zone. After months of training and fundraising for AIDS/LifeCycle, we’ll ride. And even on the most perfect of days, I know myself: I’ll still battle to find my comfort zone. In those moments on this particular ride, I’ll remember those battling HIV and AIDS. For them, “comfort zone” takes on a new meaning in almost every moment.

Waking Up in Your Own Bed

I’ve been blessed with good health in this life. Never spent the night in a hospital bed waking in pain or fear, wondering where I am, sleeplessness as much a part of each 24-hour turn as three measured encounters with bland, squishy food. Never traded the comfort of home for the din of machines, unfamiliar odors, eery light and being REALLY sick. Nope – I’ve been lucky. If I’ve awakened in a bed other than my own, it was out of choice.

I recently spoke with a friend who is HIV positive about the everyday struggles with his health. He counts himself fortunate to be healthy enough to work and have health benefits that cover some of the cost of his “maintenance” care. He wakes up in his own bed every morning – for now. But there are days when he is sick and can’t get out of bed. And there is the fear that this time, this bout of intestinal distress will be a turning point, the one that lands him in the hospital. This is the reality for millions of men, women and children worldwide who are fighting to win their life-or-death battle with HIV and AIDS.

Eight months from today on June 12th, Carol and I will wake up in our own bed after spending seven nights in the AIDS/LifeCycle tent city. She’ll be recovering from seven days of early mornings and long days laboring to make sure each of the cyclists has everything needed to complete the ride each day. I’ll be nursing 545 miles worth of sore muscles and longing for anything but the saddle on my bike. The journey we have signed on for to raise funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS will be over and we will have returned to the comfort of our own bed. I imagine that first night, we’ll snuggle down, look into each other’s sleepy eyes, exchange one last tale from our days on the road, share a gentle kiss, set the alarm and reach for the light – maybe taking it all a little less for granted as our heads hit our pillows.

Why a Cause?

I began cycling for a cause in 1998. A diabetes diagnosis and weighing over 200 lbs. was my motivation. Initially, I was my cause. That soon changed when I joined Team in Training and my focus shifted to finding a cure for blood cancers. I found this cause was larger than me and my individual challenges. Over time, this cause reshaped my understanding of love, community and humanity – of self and that there truly is no “other” – that the only cause is the human cause.

Each time we commit to a cause, we change the course of history. We build relationships, raise awareness, open minds and open hearts. We make connections that affect lasting change. And we can’t help but change. My cycling keeps me physically healthy; doing it for a cause keeps me spiritually healthy; doing it with incredible people keeps me emotionally healthy.

Each time I reach out for support, I am deeply touched by the people who reach back, grasping my hand, offering help in more ways than one can imagine. I am blessed to have the support of family and close friends. I don’t take that for granted; I haven’t always had such a strong and extended support system. Some people are in awe of the physical challenge or daunted by the fundraising and say, “I could never do that, but I can support you with a donation.” Others share how the cause has touched them, sometimes talking about their grief for the first time. Some want to lend their support but are not in a position to donate (in a future post, I’ll share the story of Jack Lane). I have learned to accept all of these gifts finding value in the purity of simple human interaction. The gifts of time and love and heart are priceless.

And so, I am committed to the human cause. I cannot rid the world of disease or hatred or natural disaster. These days, it only takes a few minutes watching the news or driving on the freeway to focus on the negative in this world. Those same few minutes working for a cause brings me back to all that is good in this world. We can make the world a better place – we are making the world a better place. Peace.

To read more about our cause, visit AIDS/LifeCycle TeamReaganHarlow.

Just Do Something

So much in this life is out of our control. Carol and I have both lost friends too young – to cancer, lymphoma, addiction, wreckless drivers, and AIDS. We were powerless to save our friends, but we are not powerless in honoring their memory, in making the world a little bit better in whatever way we can. We can all do something.

In 1994, Carol lost her best friend, Scott, to AIDS. That year she began her volunteer work with AIDS Walk San Diego; this past September, she completed her 17th campaign as a key member of the event staff. I joined her transportation crew in 2003. Her commitment became mine.

This year, we have decided to do more to honor Scott’s memory. For the next eight months, we’ll be preparing for AIDS/LifeCycle, raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS. Follow us on our journey either on facebook or here on our blog.


Young, bright, talented, beautiful - M. Scott Morton 1960-1994


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