I know I’ve mentioned this, but this year, I’m one of the two Co-Chairs for PWA’s Friends for Life Bike Rally. It’s a two -year commitment I made last year just before my mum died, in part because I thought she would be proud of me if I did. (She was.) Ironically, I don’t know if I would have done it if I knew at the time that my mum had just weeks to live – though in a lot of ways it’s been a good distraction from grief, and the other stuff. Part of the reason I decided to apply for Co-Chair last year was how struck I was by a guy who asked me if AIDS was still a thing. I was so upset by it – at the time it seemed to me that he was ignorant. How could he not know? I mean, of course HIV/AIDS is still a thing! (A friend talked me down, told me about how it’s perceived. He was right. Turns out the guy was more normal than ignorant. I wrote about it here.)
I still worry a lot about the things that I talk about in that post. Homophobia, discrimination, a lack of empathy, but the other part of the reason I volunteered- the largest part for me, I think, was that I feel like we don’t talk enough about how much of a women’s issue HIV/AIDS is. People who know that this is an important cause for me often don’t know how relevant that is – more than half of the people in the world who have it are women – particularly young women. Here in Canada (and the States is pretty similar) about a quarter of all incidences are in women.
I care a lot about everyone who this issue matters to – we all have our own reasons, and everyone we know who is HIV+ has their own stories, but it has always been true that vulnerability increases the risk, and women are particularly vulnerable, mostly because they have less of the things that are statistically protective (money, education, power, sexual freedom, access to healthcare) and more of the things that put you at risk. (Stigma, violence, poverty.) Women are simply less able to protect themselves, and that’s scary. I’ve been going down to PWA every week or so, and the place is full of women (and their kids). About 25% of their clientele, which makes absolute sense.
There’s this one woman – I’ve heard her speak a few times about her story and how she came to be a client of PWA, and that story involves surviving genocide, rape, poverty, and the death of her husband and a great deal of her family, followed by the birth of a child who was the product of that violence, and is also HIV positive. She came to Canada as a refugee, and PWA has been her everything. She credits them with saving her life, and the life of her child. This year, she, and the mother who taught me to care about that, are the reason I’m getting on my bike, even though it will be very hard.
Several of you have suggested (and you are kind and lovely people) that I not ride this year, because it might be too hard. That there have been enough hard things this year (although the shingles is just about all better, thanks for worrying) and that maybe I could sit this one out and support The Rally as part of the Leadership, and as a fundraiser, and you’re right. It has been a difficult year, to say the very least. Likely the most difficult of my life. I’ve struggled for my happiness a lot, had to work at finding the joyful things, and the important things and find a way to think about what is here instead of what is not. I have had to embrace (or at least stop raging against) change. It’s been really hard – but here’s something I know.
Like can cure like, and doing hard things, meeting challenges, doing more than you think you can, it is like anti-venom to a snakebite. Every time I’ve shied away from that over the last year, it has made things worse. Going anyway, showing up for the hurt, giving it my all… trying my best, and remaining open to the good surprises that can find me when I do, has been a life raft. Now is not the time for coddling – nor fear. It is time to make the most of the world I’ve got, and stand up for people who don’t have the things I’ve had to fall back on when disaster struck. Home, family, safety, food, money, help. Doing the best I’ve can with what I’ve got, with the people I love, has made all the difference. and I see no reason to quit now.
So, we’re on our bikes. We’ll ride from Toronto to Montreal again about 650 kilometres, (that’s about 400 miles, for my American friends) and Team Knit this year is:
(Jen’s completing her last year of Midwifery, and can’t go. She’s helping other ways.)
Our decision to ride our bikes to Montreal helps nobody, and makes no difference, not without you – as a matter of fact, you’re the important part. Once again, I’m going to try and raise a ton of money, as Team Knit and like last year, I have a private and deeply personal crazy-pants goal. To this end, I’m going to do things the same way as last year, because knitters, you were amazing. We’re going to do Karmic Balancing gifts again. As often as I can between now and the Rally, I’ll choose from amongst the people who’ve helped and redirect a knitterly (or spinnerly) gift from someone else who wants to help.*
It’s going to be all about the Karma – just like we try to make it every year. We’re trying to change lives here, make things better for some people, and there’s so much more to that than money, so, here’s the thing. If you donate to anyone on our little family team then please send me an email letting me know you’ve done so. Make the subject line “I helped” and send it to stephanieATyarnharlotDOTca. (Note the .ca it’s a Canada thing.) Include your name, address, and whether or not you spin. (For the love of all things woolly, please use the subject line. It makes your email go to a specific folder and you have no idea what a difference that makes to my sanity.) You don’t need to say what you gave, or include proof. I know you’ll do your best, whatever that is, and I know you wouldn’t lie. (If you’ve already given this year, obviously you should send an email.)
Now, we know not everyone has money to help with – so we’re taking all kinds of help. If you can figure out some other way to do that, that counts. Maybe you can tell a friend. Maybe you can post about it to social media. Maybe you can forward the email to people in your family who will give… There’s lots and lots of ways to help, and if you can figure out a way? Send that email, letting me know you did. No money needed. (Of course, money is always good too, and even small gifts make a big difference.)
Knitters, lets go big. Let’s fill up the world with amazing, and when everyone at PWA asks who these people are, like they always do? Ken, Pato, Cameron, and I will smile and say what we always do. “They’re knitters. We keep telling you that they’re awesome.”
*If you want to contribute a gift, I’m trying to make it easier -I have a better shot at getting it all done if you do this: Take a picture of your gift. Email me with the subject line “Karmic Balancing” with the details, picture and a link, if you want me to use one. When one of the helpers is chosen for a gift, I’ll email you the address, and you can ship it right to them. (It’s not a bad idea to let me know if you have shipping restrictions – I’ll keep track.) I’ll try to get through them all, though it can be overwhelming. Thank you!
(PS. If you donated last year and I didn’t give away your gift because of my mum, please accept my apology, and resend your info if you’re still into the scene. You’re great.)