If I was a gambling man, one thing I'd be willing to bet that a lot of people don't know about me is that as a young person, I lived overseas for a fairly lengthy period of time. Well, I consider five years to be fairly lengthy at any rate. We moved there when my parents took a job in southern Africa in a small landlocked country called Swaziland. Feel free to check your atlas and come back once you've checked that it is in fact a country, the name sounds so odd. I remember once as a teenager telling a friend who was from Central Africa I was moving there and he didn't even believe it existed; he thought I was making it up. At any rate, I spent the majority of my adolescence in Swaziland and saw many things there that I would consider life-changing. Some of them were great things, and some of them were terrible. Unfortunately, today's article began years ago with something terrible I saw.
Swaziland was a beautiful country and a place that I called home for many years, but it's also a third-world country and very poor. Alongside the poverty, Swaziland also suffers mightily from and has been devastated by HIV and AIDS. In fact, among other truly terrifying facts, Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world and one in four adults are living with HIV. If you're in the mood to weep, feel free to check out some of the information on AIDS in regards to the country I once considered home. Honestly, I don't see how anyone could read it and not feel the emotional weight of it all. And this is just in Swaziland. Nevermind the rest of the world or our own county.
When our friends at FindingMickey.com asked for volunteers to walk with them for the AIDS Walk OC 2011 at The Resort earlier this month, I was only too happy to do so. I mean, it was a chance to do something good for the community I spend so much time in, I got to hang out with friends, and I got to go hang out at The Park some more which is something that I'm always willing to find time to do.
But I have to be honest and admit that the path which led me to saying "yes" to them started when I was about 15 years old with a friend. Said friend was a young man who was a great friend of mine, along with his brother, in our youth group at church. We hung out at church, we attended the same functions with our youth group, we played soccer together. Anyone who has ever seen "Stand By Me" might remember a quote from the end of the movie when Richard Dreyfuss' character is finishing up his novel and writes, or types rather, these words: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?" And although I was closer to 15 than 12, the sentiment remains the same. Which made it that much harder on all of us when we found out that his parents were both diagnosed with AIDS.
Even as a 15 year old, I completely and clearly understood exactly what was going on and how much hurt it was causing my friend, and it hurt me because of it. I think that for myself, one of the hardest things about it was watching he and his brother suffer. Not only did they lose both of their parents within weeks of each other, but they also had a small brother, maybe 2 or 3 years old, maybe a bit older but not much (the years have not been kind to my memory), who passed away as well from the illness. That one was especially hard on me personally. I can remember playing with him and holding him in my arms, knowing that one day quite soon he likely would succumb as well. And within weeks, that's exactly what happened. That little boy had gone on because of something he neither asked for or wanted, and I, we, were powerless to stop it. I can remember standing in the yard of the church watching my friend wracked with sobs as we all stood around him and did the best we could to comfort him. What do you say to someone in a situation like that where something that no-one understands tears your family apart so quickly? I remember just standing around him, praying for him, and doing the best we could to let him know that we loved him. Suffice to say the experience, even after all these years, is indelibly etched in my memory and is something that I have never forgotten; nor have I forgotten what the culprit was.
So that's where it started for me, nearly 20 years ago standing in a church yard in a third world country that I would be willing to bet many of you have never even heard of. I suppose I could simply say that the thought of AIDS Awareness and doing everything I could these many years has been at the forefront of my mind, but it wouldn't be true. I don't know everything there is to know about it and I don't know a lot of the facts, but the truth is, I don't have to to have seen just how much damage it can cause, physically and emotionally. And I did make up my mind a long time that whenever I had the chance to do something that might make a little difference, I would do whatever I could to make it happen. I suppose that's why when my friends asked me to participate I did it with no hesitation. It wasn't about hanging with friends or The Park. The truth is I would have walked with them wherever it was.
This article was originally supposed to be about describing the Walk itself and everything we saw and how awesome it was to participate in it, and it was, but as you can see it took on a decidedly different timbre. I truly hope that's alright with everyone. Sometimes I just let the words flow and see where they carry me. And this is where they carried me this time. I did want to share a few final pictures with our readers, though, with the admonition and the urging that if there is something in your life that you care about very much, some cause that has hit you in the heart, that you do whatever you can whenever you can do it to make a difference. It might not seem like much, but sometimes it's nice just to slow down and give back for those who can't anymore.
Early morning lineups for the Walk
Signs along the Tram Route told the story of AIDS in The OC since its discovery
Waiting for Mickey to give us the go-ahead
Team Finding Mickey - AIDS Walk OC 2011
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