Thursday, November 26, 2009

Feeling Thankful (that Dinner Is Tomorrow)

Our cruise ship returned to San Diego this Thanksgiving Day morning after making a short voyage south to Ensenada (more on this trip later). Because most of our extended family was aboard--and exhausted--and the turkey in my mom's fridge is still defrosting, we plan to pretend tomorrow is our Thanksgiving.

So we emerged from the managed chaos/cattle call cleanly titled "Debarkation" into the sunlight of a familiar port we call home on a day when everyone is cooking or otherwise ensconced in family affairs, with ostensibly nothing to do. Except unpack and watch in horror as our kids, hungover from too much Carnival Cruise Kid Camp Fun, cackle and careen uncontrollably toward today's end, which we hold out hope will be more whimper than bang.

Without the competing attention of our Family Thanksgiving Dinner at Mammom and Bampa's, though, we had the opportunity to stick around for the feast at Christie's Place, a resource center for individuals and families afflicted with and affected by HIV and AIDS, where we have delivered homemade desserts on Thanksgiving for over ten years. We were present for the speeches before dinner was served, therefore, and listened as person after person thanked friends for being lifelines, for being supportive and nonjudgmental, for accepting and keeping them alive. One man in the mainly Spanish-speaking crowd delivered his Thanksgiving blessing in Nahuatl (Aztec).

Our initial contact at Christie's (who has become a dear friend over the years) is the leader and facilitator of a weekly Spanish-speaking support group as well as a university employee busy researching and promoting early HIV/AIDS intervention. She openly celebrated the uniquely diverse demographics of her participants: gay and straight, transgendered and cross-dressing, afflicted and affected, all coming together to help and support one another in good health and habits.

Recognizing some of the faces in the crowd as regulars at Thanksgiving over the years, I recalled a piece I heard on NPR a few weeks ago. People diagnosed with AIDS and HIV are surviving longer than ever expected in the 80s and 90s, but not without effects: research is revealing cognitive deficiencies among long-term survivors, associated with either the disease, or the drugs used to treat it, or both. Meanwhile, AIDS and HIV have moved out of the mainstream of disease activism, and funding wanes.

Raoul and I stood on the front steps as he explained to me that in his lifetime he has been in prison, on drugs, and without hope. At his initial diagnosis, he shared, he thought he would soon be dead. Now he is a caseworker who steers newly diagnosed patients toward resources and support. He gave me his card asked me to let anyone afflicted and afraid know that there were people out there who understand.

Meanwhile, our kids had seconds on turkey and we lingered as folks began packing up leftovers to take home.

Now it's 6 PM and my Facebook Friends are updating on successfully-served birds and pie. And we are winding down, with a tart to bake for a Friday Thanksgiving Feast yet to be had and oh-so-much to be thankful for, not the least of which is our good health and fortune.

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