You, Sir, Are My Better.

Julius’ birthday is coming up and so it is my duty to get a party organized, I’m not complaining.  I received a list of guests that Julius would like to be at his birthday party, I entered all of the data into Evite, not noticing his friend Jason was on the list.  It wasn’t until Jason RSVP’d “I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” that I realized he was invited.

Crap.  I didn’t want Jason there.  There’s nothing wrong with Jason, he’s a perfectly lovely individual.  Smart too, a doctor.  I’ve enjoyed hanging out with him the two times that I have.  Oh, did I mention that Jason is Julius’ ex?  It creates a world of difference to me, though it shouldn’t; Jason is just a regular humanbeing.  However, I somehow got it into my head that he’s better than me.  I don’t like that feeling, coming face to face with someone who you believe to be better than you.  It’s actually what I’ve been experiencing ever since I met him.  It’s an awful feeling that you’re seated next to someone who is so much better than you…or is it?  Up until 40 minutes ago I thought it was.

40 minutes ago I was on the train, coming home after a rather uneventful and most forgettable day at work.  There was a disheveled, rank, homeless man next to me.  He babbled something to me about cell phones being able to track you and the Government.  I immediately tuned out and though “this is why people don’t like taking mass transit in Houston, the damned homeless are on it.  At least in New Jersey NJTransit is usually too expensive for the homeless to climb on during rush hour.”

I tried to ignore him, realizing every time I did that, that I was treating this equal humanbeing next to me as something less than me, and then I felt it.  I felt that horrible feeling in the pit of my body, the same one I feel when I think about or am around Jason.  I was actually dumbfounded.  I didn’t feel like this guy was better than me, in fact I was feeling like and acting like I was better than him.  Ouch, I’m a jerk. Then I saw the man across from me reach into his bag and pull out a banana and hand it to the homeless man next to me.

I knew at that moment that, that man giving him the food was my better – by far.  He looked this man in the eyes, treated him as an equal and without pause gave him food.  But more than that, he gave him recognition, recognition that he was human and worthy of caring, as we all are.  Seeing this gentleman and recognizing that he was in fact better than I was at that moment actually made me feel good.  Here was someone doing the right thing, even if I didn’t.

Then it hit me.  I wasn’t anxious or afraid of this caring man.  I recognized he was better than me and yet my heart still spilled over with joy for him and being in his presence.  Therefore why should I ever be afraid or anxious about someone being better than I am?  To borrow a quote from Ogilvy, if we surround ourselves with people better than ourselves, soon we will be in a world of giants.

Anyone Heard About AIDS Lately?

By the way the news media treats it, you would think that HIV/AIDS doesn’t exist, that there’s been a cure and it’s something of a distant worry like polio or smallpox – but it’s not. In fact, the United States is the only country currently working on HIV/AIDS research that doesn’t have an AIDS strategy, however we do demand that other countries develop one. The real outrage is that there is NO outrage! There isn’t even any discussion, and that has created a great stunting in our growth as a society around those affected by HIV/AIDS.

While an estimated 270,000 individuals in the United States are HIV positive and unaware of it what about the 800,000 others who are wisely and courageously facing the battle head on? Our discussion around HIV/AIDS has been so stunted by the assumption that it is a manageable disease and the lack of comprehensive education that only focuses on prevention and the physical and completely ignores the psychological. We all know the ways of prevention, but what about the ways of living with individuals that have HIV/AIDS in our society. The 1990’s gave us so much information and so much education on not just the disease, but the people affected by it, perhaps creating the pinnacle of AIDS acceptance in our society. As of late this acceptance has turned into straight-out denial. How many among us could honestly say that we would date somebody with HIV/AIDS?

It is heartbreaking to hear the real plight of individuals with HIV/AIDS. A common theme is the need to constantly hide their HIV status or risk being treated like a pariah. Why? It’s disgusting. If instead of AIDS someone had cancer what then? They would be a hero, an unjust victim of their circumstances offered countless amounts of support. What is it that creates this trigger of fear when, in reality, HIV/AIDS is not that easy to catch. Without an identification of the trigger we have no hope of quashing this unjust stigma.

I asked a young man who is HIV positive if he could give me a better perspective on the situation:

“The amount of stigmatization I feel and have throw at me, in most cases, is much worse than my battle with HIV. Gay or straight. You go ask gay men how many are really willing to date a positive person, then divide that number by ten. The painful things I hear from the general public are much more harmful to my quality of life then any treatment I get. By the way, could you please not include my name in this, it’ll just make the witch hunt easier.

“Ya know, when you’re ill, the last thing you need is to have to protect yourself from the world around you. It seems as if the doctors, the researchers doing their amazing work, that they’re the only ones that actually look at us as people.

“The bottom line is, if I had cancer or diabetes my teachers/employers and even my friends would understand. When you’re in constant fear you can’t explain your condition due to the way people always have to put you into little boxes and categorize you.  Having to suffer all of this fear and ignorance is more likely to make me feel sick or depressed and that’s worse than any side effect from any antiretroviral or lack of a cure.”

It’s heartbreaking and sickening to think that in 2009 we haven’t moved much from the first days of the AIDS crisis. Sure, we’re addressing the physical needs and attempting to solve them, but in the process we’ve ignored the person and stressed the disease. Instead of supporting those in this struggle, we’ve turned them away. We still act as if a single sneeze or paper cut is going to get us sick all under the guise of protecting ourselves. These are people they’re not your damned statistic.  Instead we are like Plato’s allegory of the chained cave dwellers, unable to truly comprehend what they see, since they are prevented from grasping its true source and nature. It is time that we break our chains, climb through the torturous passage to the surface, and escape the cave, able to appreciate the full variety of the newly-discovered world.

Can You Hear Me Now? Shut The Hell Up!

Every morning, as I catch the Light Rail to work, there’s this woman who arrives to the platform in scrubs.  There’s only one reason someone wears scrubs outside of a medical building – they want you to know they work in a medical building.  Think about it, scrubs get all sorts of materials on them from blood to unmentionable, why would anyone wear them in public?  They wouldn’t, clearly this woman has a cache of clean scrubs in her house that she wears to work.  But I digress.

She arrives to the train platform, phone glued to her ear.  Normally this wouldn’t be even worth mentioning, except for the fact that you can hear her coming, guffawing and basically shouting into her phone like some deaf mute.  Despite her wearing scrubs and talking into her phone as if it were a tin can on some string, she also has what has to be the worst haircut I’ve ever seen.  It’s asymmetrical in front, and tapers into a ducks-ass in the back – it all serves to give her a rather footballish shaped head, which I would be more than happy to punt.  The train silently pulls up and the doors slide open.

We all rush in like cattle to try and get a seat.  With a  “whomp” who do you think lands next to me?  Ms. football-headed-phoneshaped-ear-deafmute.  I turn up my iPod and crack open my book.  If I could live on a street where firetrucks and police cars raced and blared their sirens, then I could live next to this woman for the next 20 minutes.  Some new music I purchased came on….cut in by

“Oh, GURL!  I KNOW!  GURL!  You don’t have to tell me!  GURL!”

Really?  I mean, are you serious?  Does she have turrets or something?  Does she have to blurt out “gurl” every few seconds?  Maybe I could develop it and blurt of bitchwhorebadhair….maybe not.  I turn up my iPod more and try to focus on my new book, Kruchev’s Cold War.  We arrive at the next stop and because we’re on a single train instead of a double, the train is already full of passengers.

“Oh I KNOW!  I can’t believe she DID that.  I told her, I DID! BWA HAHA!”

Oh c’mon now, please, who doesn’t know that it’s against mass transit etiquette to speak loudly on your phone, or to even be on it at all!  I look out the window, we’re just now getting to the other end of downtown, I have at best 10 minutes with her, at worst, 20…who the hell decided the train should stop for stop lights?

I give up on my iPod, any louder and I’ll start going deaf.  I also give up on the book, I just can’t get into it when I have to hear every detail of Charlie Brown Head’s conversation.  I look out the window…then all hell breaks loose.

“Now I TOLD HER, yes I DID!  I TOLD her not to be goin’ out with no married man!  I KNOW I set them up, but I didn’t know!  She know better!  Now she’s all angry with me and…”

“Oh that’s terrible.”

She ignores me.

“I can’t believe she’d do that, and blame you for it!”

Still ignoring me, so I turn to her.  She goes on.

“Well my son, he was askin’ what’s wrong with Auntie Lorane, what’s wrong with Auntie Lorane, it was so cute.”

“Oh yes, that’s just adorable, your son is wondering why your sister is committing adultory.  That’s just SO CUTE!  Have you any pictures of him?  You know, to put a face with a name…GURL.”

That got her attention.

“Hey, can you hold on a minute,”  she says into the phone, “excuse me, but I’m having  a private conversation here.”

Oh that’s rich.

“Really?”  I ask, “Because I could hear every damned word you said, didn’t sound so private to me.  Here’s a tip, don’t talk on your phone in public places unless you want your conversation to be heard.”

“Well, I would think someone would have more manners than to listen to my….”

“One, the manners that are lacking are yours and two, I’d be hard pressed not to listen to your conversation.  I’d be willing to bet most of the people around us could chime in about your sister and the married man you happened to set her up with!”

My stop comes up and I stand up to get by her, she stands as well as an automatic reaction – I know it’s not her stop, so I feel safe continuing.

“If you want a private conversation, then have it in private.  And stop wearing those scrubs on the train, you look like a damned fool…not that your hair hasn’t already contributed greatly to that.  Stupid cow.”

I walk off the train and to my office.  That felt good.