What’s in a Wristband?
by Catherine Benskin

Waiting in the check-in line at LAX, I picture the faces, I hear the laughter, and I feel the love of friends who began as strangers only a week ago but made their way into my daily survival for the past 7 days. I hear the voice of our team leader in my head counseling me, “Tomorrow will be the hardest day.” I begin to weep silently, but openly.

As I pass through security, memories of my week swirl in my mind’s eye. I wander towards my gate. Exhausted from a week of minimal and low-quality sleep, I flop into an empty chair at my gate and glance down at my arm to see a something so familiar I’ve forgotten it’s there- a pair of plastic wristbands. The first one is orange with a heart-shaped hole punched out of it. This one indicates that I have both seen the half-hour long safety orientation video in its entirety and have taken advantage of one of my two allotted 15 minute massages for the week. The second one is yellow with my participant number (9154) and an emergency phone number printed on it. With one glance it indicates that I am a non-vegetarian Roadie who registered for AIDS LifeCycle 6 through the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

I reach up to feel around my neck- a metal beaded dog-tag chain with two plastic disks attached. The blue one is my camp address ID that I have worn for the duration of the event. The larger orange one, I removed from my luggage. With the same ID number inscribed on both, J 90, they have connected my person, my luggage, and my tent throughout my journey.

I contemplate removing these trinkets. Having departed physically from that week of my life, I will no longer rely on these plastic tokens that have served as my address, currency and identification on my adventure. They hold no special significance in the outside world. When I get home, they may interfere with the daily routine associated with my reality of wife, mother, community volunteer and music minister. Will they prompt questions from those close to me and strangers that I will hardly be able to answer in words alone, even knowing that I could fill volumes recounting my travels, experiences, and companions?

As soon as I’ve thought of cutting them off, I am struck with a note of fear. What if I remove these wristbands? Will I forget where I’ve been? Will I forget the faces, the laughter and tears, the joy and struggle? Will I forget the strangeness that became familiar and the strangers that became family? Will I forget the 2500+ people who came from many races, geographic regions, religious associations and lack thereof, political preferences, gender orientations, couples, singles, parents, sons and daughters, and the occasional non-regulation dog, ranging from flamboyant to modest?

Will I forget that for seven days we lived as one community with one common goal? Will I forget the utopian-like society we built and maintained? Will I forget how we relied on teamwork, cooperation and unspoken rules that required us to detour from a planned destination to help someone pitch their tent, to live in unsecured dwellings trusting that the few possessions we have brought to sustain us would not be removed without permission, and to live in quarters so close that they left no room for pettiness?

Will I forget that as a community we traveled 545 miles down the coast of California? Will I forget the cities and towns we passed through from rural to urban, populations of 200 to 10,000,000, simple livers to materially privileged, who all gave generously from what they had to welcome us traveling missionaries and to support our message? Will I forget that the week I signed up for selfishly because it looked like fun has the potential to save lives?

Will I forget that over 22 million people have died from AIDS, that over 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, that there are 14,000 new infections every day with half of the 5 million new infections each year occurring among people ages 15 to 24? Will I forget that as a community, we raised a record 11 million dollars in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Will I forget my HIV positive team mates who became soul mates and the random strangers who were Roadies, Riders and spectators who are HIV positive or have lost someone they love to AIDS that thanked me through tear-filled eyes, who thanked me for taking time from my family and work, using my energy and resources to fundraise, spending my personal savings for travel expenses so that I would be honored enough to sweat, to hurt, to rise at 3:30 am in the 39 degree damp air, to hand out snacks, water and encouragement on the bike route and back in camp and stand with them in their grief and hope? Will I forget that they thanked me for doing this so that in our lifetime there may be a day when no one will have to live or die suffering with HIV/AIDS?

“No,” I think. I will not forget. But, as I step across the gap that separates the jet way from the airplane and return to my regular life, I am sadly aware of the reality that the impressions of my experience will fade over time. I am not ready quite yet for that process to begin. Inching down the aisle, silent tears still fall, I collapse into my seat, 25 F. I have decided. I will retain my wristbands for a while more.


© 2007 Catherine Benskin

Catherine Benskin is a Christian Musician based in Germantown MD.
She also is a minister with the LGBT community in her church. To learn more about Catherine and her mission visit her web site, www.catherinebenskin.com

Also check out AIDS/Lifecycle: http://www.aidslifecycle.org/

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