I wrote this on Dec. 1, 2003. Then, though I felt some sense of hope, I was overwhelmed by the continuing assault that HIV/AIDS waged on humankind. As World AIDS Day 2004 dawns, especially when I think about what is going on in Africa, it occurs that my thoughts are the same.
|My goodness, it is another World AIDS Day. This is among my least favorite days of the year.
Don’t misunderstand: I do not minimize the need for this day. It is vital to remind the world of the human cost of HIV and AIDS. We must remember those we have lost. We must thank the care providers and researchers who give so much time and effort to help those who have the disease. We must rededicate ourselves to this crucial effort. And as difficult as my experiences have been in reporting on the disease; in volunteering as a helper and “buddy”; in raising my voice as an activist; even in sitting at deathbeds, holding friends’ hands and easing their way from this life to the next, I recognize the blessings and growth bestowed on me from having lived through them. Indeed, I am grateful for these experiences, for the many wonderful people whose life paths have intersected mine — and for the global effort to honor them.
Still, I suspect I have been at this AIDS business for far too long. My first awareness of the disease came 20 years ago, and in the intervening two decades, I have suffered a lot of loss. As of Nov. 30, I have lost 121 acquaintances, friends, and loved ones to AIDS. Thinking of the happy memories I shared with these people — which I do often — gives me great joy. But on each World AIDS Day, I think of these people en masse, in a rolling line: Willie and Robbie and John and Leon and Steve and Connie and Carey and Vince and Audra and Andre and Bobby and Paul and Lorraine and Jamal and Rochelle and Joe and Colin and Walter and Mary Sue and on and on … As you can imagine, it can be mind-numbing, and each year the process becomes increasingly brutal.
My beloved grandfather, who died from cancer three years ago, once said to me during a time when a lot of his 70- and 80-year-old friends were dying that I had undergone too much loss for someone so young. I was just over 30 then and agreed. Now, I am 42 and more fatalistic: Death is part of life. Whatever your age, you deal with it and go on. I can do that. But it doesn’t make the grief disappear, though, and the pain intensifies as the years roll by.
Five years ago, I was stunned and saddened by the death of a friend and AIDS activist. My pain was such that I had to write about it. The story appeared in Baltimore City Paper in May, 1998. My pain is such today that I have to share a piece of it here:
Yes, I have dealt with much loss. It haunts me today and likely will do so until my dying day. But I must think of my lost loved ones and about their deaths.
On World AIDS Day, there is no choice. The situation is worsening, according to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who warns that the world is losing the fight against the disease. Read his 2003 World AIDS Day message here.
As noted by England’s National AIDS Trust, five people die from the disease every minute. The disease once known (erroneously) as the “gay plague” now affects every part of this planet, infecting more than 42 million people, 5 million of them last year alone. More stats from NAT’s World AIDS Day site:
Adding insult to proverbial injury, there are those who, through ignorance and/or bigotry, still attempt to stigmatize those with the disease Hence this year’s WAD theme: “Stigma and Discrimination — Live and Let Live.” NAT offers a test that asks Are You HIV Prejudiced? Take the test and learn something about yourself. However you score, make it part of your life to stop this nonsense. Help people learn to live and let live.
So there are many reasons that make World AIDS Day necessary. UK organization Avert offers a summation:
Indeed. I have been at this AIDS business too long. But as long as prejudice continues and education is needed and items sit on the to-do list, I will stick with it. Quoting Frost, there are miles to go before I sleep.
Much love always to everyone on my list… You are missed, every World AIDS Day and, in truth, every single day.
And so this is World AIDS Day. What have you done? What will you do?