World AIDS Day, December 1, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. World AIDS Day was an idea of two public information officers from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1987.
Each year 50,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States. About 1.2 million Americans are infected - with 20-25% unaware that they are HIV-positive. And the U.S. has the highest rate of new infections of any developed country.
When HIV/AIDS first gained media attention a colleague said, “We will all know someone who has – and dies from - this disease.”
First, my college classmate died – a gentle soul – with friends at his bedside and parents distanced. Distanced because Jim was gay – and they could not love him because of his sexual orientation. Reject a child as he lay dying? Such are the sins of those who refuse to love.
And then Mark. A childhood friend – another gentle soul – whose kindness defined him. I never saw him angry or enraged. He personified thoughtfulness; his easy-going nature made him delightful. And his humor? Drop on the ground hilarious! When he became sick, his already-close family simply stayed closer.
Mark was buried on his 39th (December) birthday. My words were read aloud, words recalling our childhood vacations. He is the face of AIDS for me. Where have you encountered the faces of AIDS?
For Mark, Forever
We romped in innocence during those childhood years when we filled summer days with water slides and pony rides. A clanging bell called us up the hill for peanut butter ‘n jelly on brown bread with extra chips (please) and chocolate milk.
We splashed the afternoons away and belly-flopped ourselves silly; dads played captain at a Bayliner’s helm and we got to wear our real pajamas to a real pajama party – don’t be late.
Our footsteps thundered across the bridge and screen doors slammed as we hurried to the best moments of our youth. And every year we returned, never too grown-up to taste the best of life.
Then, the loss of innocence came crashing into our lives – like a violent, relentless winter storm.
The experts prophesied that every heart will grieve before we find a cure.
Some listened. Most scoffed. But slowly the world took notice as the most unsuspecting among us fell ill. The gentlest and the brightest leaving too soon.
Our nation watched in horror as wounded families – lovers, mothers, brothers, daughters, dads, sons and sisters – unraveled their pain in patchwork panels stitching stories of unfinished lives.The quilt stretches too far, too fast, until we all see a face we love.
Today, I hear the experts’ voices as my own heart grieves in the letting go. But during these difficult days, we send you our love and surround you with joyful memories of childhood adventures.
We remember the gifts you have given:
Your gentleness and humor,
Your generosity and charm,
Your kindness and laughter.
Eternal gifts – always gifts – no virus can touch.
Many more people are living with – and not dying from - HIV/AIDS than ever before. Perhaps one day this disease will be curable. On December 1st, we remember those people we have lost, those who still struggle, and we support the experts who may provide the longed-for cure we seek.
(S-R archives photo: Indian school children make a formation in the shape of the red ribbon, the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV.)