Just when I was starting to feel good — or at least better — about humanity again, they had to go and blow it.
There I was, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people, all of whom had come together to raise money for a good cause. I was walking through Central Park, riding high on a wave of good cheer brought about by seeing so many different people from all walks of life come together for the 2012 AIDS walk, collectively raising millions of dollars to help their fellow man. It was enough to make one forget, for a blissed-out minute, one’s deeply-held belief that overall, people are only out for themselves and don’t really give much thought to the needs of others.
And then, the kids threw their empty water bottles into the woods. And the incongruity of the action nearly left me speechless. How could people who’d come out for such a great cause do something so antithical to the day? Sure, all causes are not created equal in any person's mind, but how did they justfy walking to raise money to help save lives even as they polluted the planet we call home?
When I say it “nearly” left me speechless, I mean just that. Because anyone who knows me knows that speechless is not generally something I am when it comes to situations such as this one.
“Guys,” I said, gesturing toward the plastic bottles they’d thrown into the grass, “come on. That’s not cool.”
The teens looked at me as if I had grown three heads.
And from behind, an older woman glared at me, saying, “My children are out here doing something good for this world,” she angrily declared. Then, full of righteous anger, she added, “Something for people... like you!” Whether she meant people who are gay (which I am) or people infected with HIV (which I am not), it wasn’t clear. But the tone made it clear that she and her children, marching as part of a church organization, looked at themselves as superior to the poor, pitiful folks they were there to help.
Apparently, she and her delightful brood had zoned out during the opening ceremonies, during which such celebs as Nick Jonas and Dot Marie Jones (of GLEE) spoke of how important it is to educate young people to the fact that AIDS isn’t simply “a gay problem”, or the fact that in 2009, people aged 13-29 accounted for approximately 39 percent of all new HIV infections.
For this woman and her children, taking part in the AIDS walk was nothing more than an opportunity to pat themselves on the back and say, “Look at all the good we do.” They weren’t capable of seeing the irony of their own words or deeds, that even as they helped raise money for a worthy cause, they did a disservice to the literal environment by polluting and the figurative one by furthering the kind of hatred and negativity that kept HIV in the shadows for years.
I could have said all this and more, but instead, I did something I’m not particularly known for; I kept my mouth shut, walking into the grass and picking up their bottles, carrying it to the next available recycling bin... which was about 50 yards away. I ignored the eyes of the woman, her teens and their church group, all of whom were clearly viewing me as one of the poor heathens they’d so generously donated their Sunday afternoon to helping.
And I tried not to smile too broadly when all around me, people applauded my actions. I'll admit, however, that I may have failed on that count.