Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why I do it

Recently, I have been really stressed out, to the point of a bit of dizziness and breathing problems, about my work, my progress in my career and whether the personal sacrifices I am making and will have to make in order to be successful are worth it. Its not like my life is bad, its not, in fact its pretty great, but people tend to create or expand problems to fill empty space, so this is my filler. And having said that these are real issues for me and will be something that I have to deal with more and more as I get older and both my career and family grow. I will have to give up huge amounts of money and time with my family and friends so that I have a chance to make a large impact, and given the vagaries of science, all that I give up might not result in the difference I want to make.

So, I have been struggling with focus, trying to figure out if the chance of making that kind of difference is worth the possible things that I will miss and the amount of stress and angst I will go through as my career progresses .... and then, as I was just starting work today, I was listening to a podcast from the Radio Diaries, which is, by the way, an incredible audio program you can get for free. This story was played in honor of World AIDS Day, which is December 1st each year, so I was listening to it a bit late.

It was a story about a South African teenager named Thembi, and her struggles with the HIV infection she received from an ex-boyfriend. It was just her talking, describing a year in her life, and it was incredibly powerful. To hear her talk about how she wakes up each day, say hello to the virus and tells it to behave, or how her elderly mother came to check on her, saw she was sick and carried her on her back to the hospital, or to hear her tell her father for the first time that she is HIV positive ... it was amazing. And it reminded me that the reason I do what I do is because it needs doing and there are a lot of people who can't, because they don't have the option. Billions of people around the world struggle with all sorts of problems I don't have any conception of, and if I can do anything that might help some of them, its probably worth doing.

We are the privileged few, those who have had access to the resources and support needed to learn enough to be able to try and make a difference for the millions who aren't even able to try. And though it is our right to make choices about our lives and decide what is best for us and our families, it is also incumbent upon us as members of the global society and the human race to think of those who are not fortunate enough to have these choices and concerns, and who cannot make the differences we can, though they might if they could. Getting back to me, since this is my blog, in my moments of clarity, I know that it is not up to me to solve the AIDS crisis, or defeat tuberculosis, or help end hunger and poverty, or fix any other of the numerous global crises out there. I couldn't do those things even if I wanted to.

Judaism teaches us that the best way to make a difference in the world is to start by making a difference in your own home, and I do think that that is something I do now and that will grow in importance to me as I get married and have children. But, I am also lucky enough to have the opportunity to work for the good of people beyond not only the walls of my house but the borders of my country. So for now, I will likely continue to stress but I will also remember that I am blessed with the responsibility brought about by my own fortunate circumstances, and I will continue to passionately work to combat AIDS each day, because every little bit I can do here might someday help millions of people like Thembi over there.

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