It's been taking me a while to put into words the emotions - gratitude, awe, meaning, and more - that I experienced before and during AIDS/LifeCycle this year. I'm going to stand on the shoulders of giants who are much more articulate than I to help.
One of the speakers at the opening ceremony said this
We ride so that one day we don't have to
This poignant sentiment left me in tears, because it hit me like a bus - that reason for which we've gathered. Reasons abound amongst individuals - personal challenge, fitness, self discovery, and more - but it is the simple fact of our world that if we, the able and the privileged, do not stand for ourselves and our brethren, put down by stigma, prejudice, and disease, we shall have lost our humanity.
HIV/AIDS is preventable. It is a disease that we can eradicate the same as ebola or polio. Many more will be come infected and die before that is a reality, but it will one day be a reality, because of people like the ones on this ride. Hate and prejudice is also a disease. Many LGBTQ+ people will die from suicide and murder in the years to come, while their rights are stripped and lives hampered by the lack of acceptance. This is unacceptable.
As I rode the 545 some miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I knew that I would encounter beautiful landscapes, personal challenge and discovery, and inspiring individuals. What I was not prepared for was the sheer selflessness and acceptance of 3000 people, giving their money, their time, their bodies, and their hearts in an unquestionable dedication to improving the lives and worlds of others.
I expected a separation of the fundraising from the ride; I expected a celebration that we'd raised money for these good causes, but that the ride would stand alone.
I was wrong. It was not a celebration. There is no celebration in pushing our bodies to their limits to climb hills literally named for the pain they cause. There is no celebration in pedaling for hours on end to cross over 100 miles of country in heat and, sometimes, loneliness. There is no celebration in hauling gear and food and water at 3am, or putting medical tape on hundreds of tired and injured riders at the end of the day. There is no celebration in standing in front of 3000 strangers as an HIV positive rider. There is no celebration in knowing that when many go home from this ride, their rights to life and marriage may still be hampered by those with prejudice.
There were happy times and sad times. I laughed a lot, but I also cried a lot. I wasn't surrounded by riders and roadies. I was surrounded by people and love. A common dream shared among participants is "to take this acceptance and love back to our communities so that we can share in it for an extra 51 weeks in the year." I hope that we can one day make that a reality.
For all of this and more, you, my supporters, have my deepest gratitude. You were a part of this progress, and helped me to be a part as well. Thank you, truly.
I want to leave you with the last page of Cloud Atlas - a writing that was mentioned by another rider as particularly inspiring. I agree with the sentiments almost as if the writer drew them from my own heart.
My recent adventures have made me quite the philosopher, especially at night, when I hear naught but the stream grinding boulders into pebbles through an unhurried eternity. My thoughts flow thus. Scholars discern motions in history & formulate these motions into rules that govern the rises & falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary, however. To wit: history admits no rules; only outcomes.
What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts. What precipitates acts? Belief.
Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history’s Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the “natural” (oh, weaselly word!) order of things?
Why? Because of this:–one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.
Is this the doom written within our nature?
If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe diverse races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.
A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living. Upon my return to San Francisco, I shall pledge myself to the Abolitionist cause, because I owe my life to a self-freed slave & because I must begin somewhere.
I hear my father-in-law’s response: “Oho, fine, Whiggish sentiments, Adam. But don’t tell me about justice! Ride to Tennessee on an ass & convince the rednecks that they are merely white-washed negroes & their negroes are black-washed Whites! Sail to the Old World, tell ’em their imperial slaves’ rights are as inalienable as the Queen of Belgium’s! Oh, you’ll grow hoarse, poor & gray in caucuses! You’ll be spat on, shot at, lynched, pacified with medals, spurned by backwoodsmen! Crucified! Naïve, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!”
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?