My intentioned life — Dear Oprah,
Hello Oprah, I recently saw an interview where you expanded on you views and practice of leading an intentioned life, and you grabbed my attention. So, as someone who now leads a life of honesty and integrity, I am even more driven to speak with you. It has been a bit of a hidden dream of mine for many years, but I didn’t quite know what I wanted to say, now I do.
I have led what everyone who knows me well, a one of a kind life. I am not boasting by any means, as most of the time, my life choices and serendipity have left me quite lonely. Despite many pleas from all degrees of friends that I write my ‘story’, until quite recently, when I really discovered my personal spirituality, I had no idea what they meant. Today, I know what I want to say, and have written pieces of my story, but I just have no idea how to tie it together and have it sound authentic.
Some examples: I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people on earth, and all through the day I find myself thanking God for even the smallest things, as his power and guidance ultimately have made everything I do possible. Getting in and out of my car successfully is a regular on that list as mobility is quite challenging for me at present. It will improve. I am starting my 41st year of living with HIV Infection, and I am the sole survivor of the 80 person cohort who like me, volunteered for one of the earliest clinical trials looking for a treatment for AIDS in 1987. The chemical, which I have problems calling a drug, was very toxic, and was instrumental in the deaths of the other volunteers. As a life-long athlete, over the years, my abilities diminished culminating in 2002, when my spine compressed and led to the discovery that the drug, which had started this process for many early on, had destroyed my cartilage — disks, joints and all. In 2008 after 45 of the 90 operations I had in my efforts to deal with my condition over the last 15 years, I lost my ability to walk without a walker. Enough of this — I give it only as background.
The day that this athlete, who had enjoyed the spoils of my athleticism as a gay man in Southern California for many years, was forced to slow down and really see what was all around me for the first time was my awakening.
I come from a family of immigrants who believe in the importance of giving back and helping those with less than ourselves. I was the kid who ‘Trick or treated for UNICEF, and when we moved from Detroit in 1959 to Dallas, Texas. My brilliant, activist mom became the default voice of left-wing, democratic, feminist, jewish, liberal, anti-discrimination causes in Dallas in the 60s and 70s. Let’s just say that early in my grade school career, most little boys and girls weren’t allowed to come and play at my house. Mom was really unhappy, and we kids knew it — bigtime. However, when she passed away in ’97, 20 years after her husband’s death, she had worked up to being the Chief of Fair Housing at HUD in DC. Her memorial was life changing for me as a throng of strangers told their stories of how my mom had changed their lives by her devotion to the fight against discrimination of all kinds, most prominently race and sexual identity. I could not stop crying. Her one fear in life was that she wasn’t making a difference. Now she knows how much she did. Way to go mom.
What I have discovered by living with 40 other disabled seniors in my apartment building built to house seniors with disabilities is that too many of my neighbors who 7 years ago entered here in pretty good shape, able to go and do and enjoy the world had changed and declined alarmingly. Too many don’t get their needs met, lose their connections to family, friends, society, anything that gave them a quality of life that the rest of us take for granted. I could not just sit and watch this. So, out of this strife, AdvanceAbilities was born. I am so grateful to have this opportunity, it’s hard to explain, especially since most of my friends think I’m nuts to take this on ‘in my condition’. Let me just say, during my ‘ill years’, my brain was churning away with idea after idea that I could not make real, and if I hadn’t discovered volunteering to help others with HIV in need, I felt like it was going to explode.
Now, we are going to change the way America views and treats all nature of disabled and less capable seniors as we dispel the myth that persists saying that anyone over 50, especially if they have a visible defect, is nothing more than a useless burden, having nothing to bring to any discussion. The ROI model of looking at a person’s worth is cruel, misconstrued, and just wrong. The notion of hiring someone young as opposed to old despite the older persons vast experience and impeccable employment record, for no reason other than one might get more good years out of the youngster, is insulting. It’s time that America realize that our older generations are treasures to be celebrated and protected, like most other societies on our planet. We all need to slow down a bit, and I promise that this will happen.
Oprah, I want your help and support in my mission. Our website describes how we intend to do this under the ‘what we do’ tab on our website. If I have piqued your interest, please visit www.advanceabilities.com and select the ‘what we do’ tab, and learn about our projects. My contact info is on the site. I sure hope that you see this and seek me out.
Best, Jim Chud