31 years ago this month I was on holiday in Los Angeles. I also took the opportunity to visit as many AIDS projects as I could (and also take part in the Stop LaRouche campaign).
During a visit to one of these projects someone suggested that I attend one of Louise Hay’s ‘Hayrides’. I have to confess I’d never heard of her at that point – although I became increasingly familiar with her name in the next few years. Since she came highly recommended as someone who was doing great work with people with AIDS I made sure I attended.
The event took place in a large hall that, by the time of my arrival, was pretty full. From memory, I’d say there were at least two hundred people there, most of whom were sitting on the floor. A handful sat in chairs or wheelchairs. I soon realised that these people were too frail or sick to sit on the floor.
The evening began with Louise Hay walking around the hall with a microphone, inviting people to share or offload any thoughts or feelings they needed to express. There was a range of contributions, both positive and negative. For example, one man expressed his joy at being discharged after a seemingly endless hospitalisation. Others talked of things like losses or diagnoses they had experienced.
The story I remember the most came from an emaciated man, swathed in blankets and curled up in a wheelchair. His appearance and feeble voice suggested that he was extremely old, but the reality was that he would have been in twenties or thirties. Such was the impact of this hideous disease at that time.
His ‘positive’ story was that he had had some vast amount of urine catheterised from his body that very afternoon in hospital. Hay expressed her amazement at the amount of urine. I was just shocked that that amount had been allowed to build up before he had been treated. What kind of treatment were people getting in this town?
As the evening wore on we were asked to form groups of three. I ended up with a gay male couple, who didn’t seem overly keen on ‘sharing the love’ with a third person. The main part of the exercise was sitting foot-to-foot in a triangle formation, then joining hands and pulling or being pulled in a circular motion by our companions.
The physical discomfort wasn’t half as bad as the social discomfort. The warm and fuzzies just weren’t flowing in our part of the hall!
Perhaps it was this experience or the fact that I’d recently finished studying psychology as part of my social work degree. Either way, it felt very much like being in playschool as we sat shoeless on the floor, being urged to play nicely with the others.
That sense was reinforced when we were handed a little song sheet to finish the evening. The song was I Love Myself the Way I Am, which, in that context, felt uncomfortably like a nursery rhyme. 31 years later, the words are still embedded in my brain:
I love myself the way I am
There’s nothing I need to change
I’ll always be the perfect me
There’s nothing to rearrange