Community is still Alive and Well in L.A.!

15 05 2006

Community is Still Alive and Well in L.A.

On Saturday May 13, I walked a 5K for the Revlon Run/Walk for Women to raise awareness/money for women’s cancers, primarily ovarian and breast cancer. It’s an event that I started doing at its inception 13 years ago, when I was totally into running. Between my own physical (back and hip problems), spiritual (burned on the whole church “pseudo-community” thing), and emotional/logistical struggles (tales for future blogs), it was something that I let drop off the radar of my life. Through a mere fluke of changing jobs, it blipped back on the screen; and I’m so thankful that it did.

Cancer is a big deal to me, as I have had several close relatives and dear friends who have struggled, survived and lost this battle. My sister June is currently battling a T-cell lymphoma that, while not presently life-threatening, is limiting her health, and if left unchecked, could potentially grow worse. My grandfather Joe Henry and my favorite aunt Honey both died of brain cancer. Jenifer O’Brien, a co-worker and friend, won her battle with breast cancer, but ultimately lost the war to ovarian cancer. And Peter Riley, son of my dear friends Chris and Kathy, developed a brain tumor when he was six. It was successfully removed, but his mental development was permanently altered, and at 18, he still fights the battle with constant monitoring and checkups, as well as subsequent surgeries to remove new growths from his brain. So when I hear stories about cancer of any kind, I cringe inside, get angry, rail at the sky and wonder why. It is a disease that often comes out of nowhere and is no respecter of person, be it age, race, sex or gender. Hence it’s a cause I can get behind—some people do the Aids Walk and Race for the Cure—cancer is the disease I choose to rally against. When I become rich, cancer research is one of the places where my money will go—but currently I’m not, so I can at least put my feet to the cause.

Three weeks ago, I changed jobs, moving to a new law firm called Sheppard Mullin, and the Revlon Run/Walk happened to be the event the firm chose to back, sponsoring a team with t-shirts and the works. So one of the women on the team asked if I was going to sign up, and I said, “Why not?” Lynn would be occupied doing emergency response for a run in Malibu (he’s a HAM Radio technician), so I had a free morning; I also thought it might be a good way to get to know other women in the company.

But strangely enough, I almost contemplated bailing out. That hip I spoke about earlier is still not in the best of shape, and I certainly did nothing to prepare for walking 3.5 miles (what can you do in a week, anyway?), and that 7 a.m. registration thing wasn’t making me too happy either (I’m a night owl; I know, big surprise). Somewhere between Sex and the City and Friends, I buckled down, set my alarm for 5:30 a.m.!, and when it went off at pre-dawn, got my ass out of bed, got ready, and hopped the Metro Red Line to downtown. With $3.50 a gallon gas, the planners of the event were gracious enough to provide shuttles from the Staples Center downtown to LA Coliseum on 39th and Vermont, for those of us who didn’t want to drive and pay for parking (that would be moi). It was heartening to see that others decided to go this route as well. I ran into a group of young women and men in their 20s, who were walking in support of a friend named Kelly O. One of their team had a picture of Kelly on her t-shirt. Kelly O. couldn’t have been any more than 25, if that. She was beautiful, blonde and bright, looking nothing like a person who you would expect would be battling cancer. Giving credence to the fact that Big C is no respecter of person.

I managed to meet up with the rest of the Sheppard Mullin team walkers, including Corrina Tluczek and Megan Bennett, the team leaders. The hats chosen were an ungodly pink, red and gray camouflage—I refused to wear it, but it did make the team easier to spot in the sea of pink and purple! While we all started out walking together, I felt motivated to power-walk, and ended up losing them in the press of bodies. I had the wherewithal to bring my i-Pod Nano, so to the tunes of Annie Lennox’s Diva, I kept up my brisk pace, while observing the other walkers around me.

There was a woman at the starting line who wore a white t-shirt and a pink hat that said, “I Miss U Mommy.” She was walking in memory of her mother, Guadalupe P., along with her sisters and cousins. I was extremely touched, and asked her if she would mind me snapping some pictures, to which she graciously acquiesced. Two other survivors caught my eye as well, one dressed as a “pink angel” and the other with a pink cowboy hat and a big button that read, “Cancer Sucks.” Amen, sister.

From my observational stance, I was amazed at what I saw around me. Men with their wives or girlfriends; other men, with their buddies or partners; teenage boys and girls, by themselves, or with their moms; and entire church and civic groups, all gathered together for one purpose: to walk for the cause. Had I had a chance to interview the particular ones that captured my interest, I’m sure I’d hear stories about friends, relatives, loved ones who were in their minds and hearts—some walking with them, some now departed, who motivated them to give up their Saturday morning to walk together and bump up against each other—two things that rarely happen in Los Angeles in a good way—if you’ve seen the movie Crash, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Superficiality is an art form here, and for me, true community has become difficult, if not impossible, to find and/or maintain. Most of the people who made up my community now live outside of Los Angeles and California. Some moved for the reasons I mentioned, some moved for other reasons, like housing, better work, or to be closer to family. Over the past year, the sense of feeling bereft and alone has become more pronounced. Meeting Lynn and falling in love with him has definitely softened that blow, but beyond that significant relationship, there is no sense of belonging in this town. I stay in Los Angeles for particular reasons, but given a good enough opportunity, I would strongly consider moving someplace else.

Participating in the walk renewed hope that community still exists here, and it is not impossible to find. People can and do choose to connect, not only for the cause of cancer, but for the sake of bonding, supporting, and building a life with others.

My bum hip started acting up around Mile 2, so I slowed my power pace down to a stroll. A woman next to me tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Looking Good! Looking very good!” I thanked her, and we chatted a bit about the event, and how thankful we were that the cloud cover lasted almost till the end of the race. Once we reached the end of the walk, I lost sight of her, but her unconscious reinforcement of my hope lingered. Community happens, especially in L.A.



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