Huffpost Impact
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Carol Smaldino Headshot

Connecting Northern Colorado to Dallas Buyers Club

Posted: Updated:

It seems to be our way of protecting ourselves from feeling human. We could -- those of us still thus engaged -- could never get AIDS, could never be jobless or homeless or a drug addict, until we or someone close in fact gets stung by what is ultimately part of life. We refuse the notion of luck, and the irrationality of accidents, even the accident of where we were born and into what we were born as well. And yet it is there for the seeking, the suggestions that we are in fact all more human than otherwise (Harry Stack Sullivan), and that humility might be one of the things we could actively cultivate rather than waiting to be hit over the head by evidence that we are vulnerable too.

The upside of knowing how fragile it can be to be human, even on a good day, is that we are less alone, less in hiding, less faking our existence and making believe we are what we're not and vice versa. When I met Kendra Wickline and Blaire Bacon in an aqua class nearby, they were two young women who seemed to be friends. We got to chatting in the water after class (water can do that to a person) and I asked them what they did. They work at the Northern Colorado AIDS Project. What? was my first thought, since I admit my own (now prior) ignorance of the prevalence of AIDS today or enough of it to merit an organization all about it. These are two women not thankful for the existence of an illness but thankful to be part of a community where they feel not only a part of helping but where they feel an equality among people in general.

I asked them if they had seen Dallas Buyers Club the 2013 film about the subject, with a cracker jack (meaning phenomenal not cowboy) performance by Matthew McConaughey and a splendid one by Jared Leto, and yes they had. We did coffee and we experienced that pleasure that comes in letting one's hair down and feeling understood. Here were these two women who didn't have to be preached to about compassion, in fact they knew that some of the basis of their own, came in turn from their own need for honesty and to be known. Ron Woodruff, the real life person on whom the McConaughey role is based, was himself a rough riding, gun toting, promiscuous kind of asshole -- at least that is how he is portrayed, but straight, mind you, in the mix. So when he found out he had AIDS, he of course freaked, he wasn't queer! so it couldn't have happened to him. If you can tolerate the back alley constant barrage of sex, profanity, and testosterone violence, go for it because it yields some of the most tender performances and audience emotions of any film I've ever seen. It's about the best of life, the transformation of any of us from jerks who judge on either side of any aisle or religion or any spectrum at all, into people who know we are at bottom people made of similar materials, stuff that can be used for the good and not, stuff that is not just good or bad but all of it combined.

Kendra tells me that she used to see an IV drug user and walk by on the far side; she now sees that person as just that, a person who uses drugs. Her own humility in this arena was already increased when she suffered from a spinal fusion; she could afford treatment through the help of her family and through that help she could heal. She saw others who didn't have the supports or the money and turned to heroin, and she in no way feels she is one to judge. She, as well as Blaire, feels fortunate to be sharing and enhancing their own humanity in their work. They are two people who know the value of empowerment as women not to be passive and not to expect abuse as so many have in the past; they experience the value of speaking openly about sex and about fears and about prejudice. Many of the people new to their center have to work through their own prejudices which include also their own (and those close to them) conviction of, well you know -- "It couldn't happen to me".

Some problems, even tragedies, have more cache in our culture than others, sex and money and race often influencing the above. But sooner or later, the messier parts of life come home to us, whether as we get old or before. Kendra and Blaire, I'm not sure they would say they were lonely to be known but they imply it and own up to the yearning for that acceptance, of themselves as much as anyone else. To me they are fortunate, because they say we aren't taught in our culture to say what we need, and they while still young are both teaching and sharing and giving this gift to themselves.

To me, they represent the possible -- the sustainable emotional supports that can be given and multiplied, and it's gorgeous because it's coming, in this case naturally. For me, it's part of an appreciation and a wish for more of the same, also so that people like me who either wear or feel their feelings on their sleeve -- literally or figuratively -- may avoid having to go into hiding with way too much aloneness -- much too much for a healthy and nourishing way to be living.