Hi folks! Those of you who watched RENT on Fox last night may have noticed an interesting change: that the leader of the Life Support group was changed from a man named Paul to a woman named Cy.
I was absolutely delighted by this, because Cy is, in fact, the real inspiration for the character Paul. Cy is Cy O’Neal, who founded the support group “Friends In Deed,” which Jonathan Larson attended and used as the basis for the support group in RENT.
I’m telling you this because it’s an opportunity to tell you a little about Cy, who is without question the most inspiring person I have ever met. I was lucky enough to be welcomed into the Friends In Deed community at the end of my Freshman year of college, and without Cy – whom I used call my “surrogate grandmother” back when I would routinely run to her office between classes at NYU – I’m honestly not sure I would have made it through at all. I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today, or have any meaningful tools to cope with my own physical condition. And for those of you who have attended the support groups I lead: if you have gained any wisdom from me whatsoever, chances are pretty good that it can be traced directly back to Cy.
Cy would respond to what I just wrote by telling you that any wisdom she’s accrued is borrowed from mystics and philosophers and healers throughout the world and throughout history. But the messenger matters. And I can think of no greater messenger than Cy, who has the uncanny ability to guide people to laughter through the most sorrowful of tears, to treat everyone with kindness and dignity and without judgment, and to provide tools and love and support without ever telling anyone what they “should” do. I am so grateful for to Cy for teaching me how to live gracefully with illness – I don’t always live up to it, but when I do, it’s because of her.
If you’re interested in learning more about how this amazing woman came to found a support group for people with HIV (the group eventually expanded to include other conditions and life circumstances as well) to talk about their fears and falls and triumphs when almost no one was talking about the epidemic at all, you should check out her memoir, “Talk Softly.”