Two Lovely Days

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Life can be hard, especially with a chronic illness. But there can still be times of beauty, fun, and love. I had two days like that over the weekend, and even though I paid a price for them, I think they were worth it.

On Friday, I went to City College of San Francisco for the graduation of their community heath worker (CHW) program. CHWs do vital work helping people change behavior, seek help, and navigate the health-care system. Some work with drugs and alcohol, some with violence and trauma, some with chronic illness, some with prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

Some do other things as well. It’s all skilled work. I looked at their textbook, and I believe being a CHW is harder than being a medical doctor (MD). The personal skills they need must take years to develop. They need to be counselors, organizers, advocates, investigators, nurses, among a bunch of other roles.

CHWs are not highly valued by the system, though. If they find work at all, it will be paid not much better than minimum wage, but they do it to help their community and help themselves get better. All of them have hard lives; most have been where their patients are now. One graduate said, “I have a PhD, a Personal History with Drugs.”

People’s children, families, and friends were there, sometimes shouting support. This was a really big deal for the graduates and their loved ones.

I was invited because I sometimes guest-lecture to CHW classes on empowerment as medicine. They use my book Diabetes: Sugar-Coated Crisis as a text, because it explains how hard lives create illness.

I was so glad they invited me, because I had been feeling doubtful about what I have been doing in life. I like the writing, I love the comments and letters I get from readers, but I go through down times when I don’t believe I’m doing any good. (I’m sure most of us feel like that sometimes.) The graduation was healing to me; it left me feeling I am on the right path. I’m still high from it.

We need days like that, because there are always personal and social reasons to feel badly. On Saturday, I attended a demonstration against Monsanto, the corporation that is engineering people’s food, contributing to the deaths of bees and butterflies, putting farmers out of business, and disrupting the lives of poor farm communities around the world.

There were about 1000 protesters, of all ages and backgrounds. It was good to be with people trying to do something positive, but it was hard to believe we could have much impact against such powerful corporate forces. Although some countries have put limits on Monsanto, here in the US, Monsanto and other big corporations seem to control both the legislature and the courts.

Their genetically modified (GMO) seeds are in almost all processed food. Nobody knows the long-term health effects of eating them. They seem to be toxic to bees.

If you don’t like them, you can go organic, but seeds blow around and it’s very hard to keep a crop pure of GMOs. Then if Monsanto finds any of their genes in a farmer’s crops, they sue the farmer for stealing their product, even though the farmer never wanted them. My brother is an organic farmer and has had problems with Monsanto. It’s all pretty scary, sad, and frustrating.

Fortunately, Sunday was Carnaval in San Francisco. Carnaval is a celebration of music, art, and culture, and of beautiful bodies, which most bodies are. Troupes dance through the streets in the dances of Brazil, the Caribbean, Africa, and Latin America. Some wear traditional clothing; some wear little clothing at all. Other troupes come from local elementary, middle, and high schools, kids dancing with help from teachers and parents. There were huge puppets, people on stilts and skates, cars and trucks turned into art and used as stages.

Aisha and I have gone to Carnaval almost every year for 35 years, hardly ever missing. Now I have to go in my mobility scooter; it’s a little harder to get around, but I never want to miss it. My friend Josie, who’s also in a scooter because of multiple sclerosis, came and sat with us for the parade. Josie and I talk on the phone a lot, but because of mobility issues, we rarely see each other, so that was great.

My granddaughter Anaya came with her parents, so it was multigenerational. Anaya always adds a lot of fun wherever she goes. It adds life energy to have her there.

The streets around the festival had become alive with music. Everyone seemed to be having block parties and cookouts. Some of the performance trucks stopped on side streets and set up ad hoc shows. Musicians from the neighborhood joined in.

I guess life is like that. There are horrible things and there are beautiful things. This weekend was definitely more on the lovely side, but it did leave me tired and not walking as well. I didn’t eat as healthy as I usually do because of being busy and too tired to cook.

That’s another thing about having a chronic condition — all the horrible and lovely things can make us slack off on our self-care and get in trouble. We have to set limits on ourselves and try not to overdo. I struggle with that, as we all do.

But sometimes it’s worth it. Hope you had a good weekend too.

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