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Now Is the Moment to Make Your Voice Heard

My fellow instigators, agitators and Architects of Change, this is a moment to use your voice. This is a moment to get into the arena and make your opinion heard.

What do speaking up, showing up, standing up for what you believe in, and giving hugs all have in common?

Turns out a lot.

This past week, I joined thousands of other Alzheimer’s advocates in Washington D.C. for the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual Advocacy Forum. These men and women came from all over the country to knock on the doors of their elected officials and let their voices be heard.

They advocated, as I did, against proposed cuts to NIH funding. They advocated, as I did, for increasing federal support for the millions of Americans working 24/7 as caregivers. They came to tell their stories of love, of pain, of anguish, and of financial ruin. They came to plead with their representatives to do more for their families and for the millions of others suffering from Alzheimer’s (two-thirds of whom are women) and other forms of dementia. I was blown away by their stories, their courage, their determination, and their willingness to go the extra mile to make a difference.

My fellow instigators, agitators and Architects of Change, this is a moment to use your voice. This is a moment to get into the arena and make your opinion heard.

Why? Because there is so much on the line. There is so much at stake. And if you don’t make yourself heard now, the things you care about could disappear.

Now is the time. Our leaders in Washington are aware of the deep unrest, the deep anger, and the deep divide in our nation. They are looking for something that will show us — the voters and the citizens of this country — that they can work together. Standing up against cuts to find cures for Alzheimer’s and other diseases would be a good place to start.

Now you may be wondering, what does going to Washington and lobbying your elected officials have to do with hugs?

Well, this past Tuesday I was honored with the Alzheimer’s Association’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. As I walked through the crowded ballroom the night of the ceremony, person after person stopped me to share their family’s story. Several asked if they could give me a hug to thank me for my work.

My brother Timmy, who was there with me and my two daughters, Katherine and Christina, will tell you that I’m not much of a hugger. But something in me shifted that night as I embraced the hugs of total strangers. I felt myself softening. I felt myself feeling the gratitude of others. I felt safe. I felt a connection that moved my heart. I felt it so much that when I stood up to accept the award and thank my family, I cried. (OMG.)

I cried because, in that moment, I felt so much love. It just took me aback.

I took a deep breath and looked out at a room of people whose lives were hard, but who stepped forward to let me know that my work and my efforts mattered.

I felt their love and I realized that I needed their care and their validation. Because no matter who we are, or what family we were born into, we are all human beings who need love. We’re all people who need care, who need a hug, and who want to know that what we are doing matters.

I didn’t go to Washington D.C. thinking I needed a hug. I went there to testify about the Alzheimer’s epidemic and its disproportionate impact on women. I went there to make my voice heard. I went there to stand up and stand in.

When I got something I needed to carry me forward, it reminded me of the Gandhi quote: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others.” I might amend that just a bit. I think that the best way to find yourself — and to find the care and the love we all need — is to show up, speak up, serve, and give someone next to you a word of “you go girl” and a hug.

I hope that the courage, determination and love that I felt from the advocates in D.C. will inspire you to get out there and do something as well. They, like the voices of the individuals we share with you in today’s Sunday Paper, are people who believe that having the courage to speak up and care for others is what will Move Humanity Forward.

So, go out and get in the arena. You may find something you weren’t looking for, but trust me, it’ll be exactly what you need.