Monday, December 7, 2009

World AIDS Day - memories

All day I've felt a bit sad. I've been remembering the arc of AIDS in my
life, what I usually think of as the AIDS WARS. I remember hearing a little
something in August of 83, an article in Time magazine perhaps, about gay
men getting cancer in San Francisco and New York. I was teaching in a
summer camp and quite isolated.

But when I returned to massage school in.Boulder, Colorado, I began to learn
more and seek out more information. I
remember in October going to an informational meeting by the Colorado
department of health and learning what little information they had. Maybe
it was a virus. AIDS as a word had not yet happened. No one was sure yet
how it was spread but probably by body fluids. Not sure about kissing,
except gay men kiss their grandmothers and grannies did not seem to have
AIDS, the doctor said.

I called that doctor soon and offered to give
massage to anyone in Colorado with AIDS whether or not they could pay.
Fortunately, the numbers were still in the single digits and I did massage
on 4 people very soon. 3 became long term clients. 2 were dead in a few
years. Many more were diagnosed and died quickly as we had so little
understanding of the new diseases and none of the existing medicines worked.

Back in Vermont in 85 I taught AIDS 101 at Quaker meetings and in NY
prisons. I became part of the Vermont People with AIDS Coalition and did
tons of massage and teaching there. In 86 my best friend got swollen lymph
nodes and though he wouldn't die for several years, my heart began to break.

I met Marshall and moved to Los Angeles, began to teach with AIDS, Medicine,
and Miracles and did massage with Michael Callen over the years. And then
we moved to Washington DC where John Meyer got me hooked up with AIDS
services and I was hands-on in several hospitals, teaching buddy teams, and
just beginning work with tortured refugees for a change of pace- it was good
to work with people who were not dying.

About this time, my best friend
began to be seriously ill. And that long vigil of support and saying
good-bye began. More friends became ill. Any illness I felt was
terrifying. I was now deeply in love and married in all senses but the
legal one and feared greatly that one of us would become ill and we'd be
among the many sinking low and disappearing and then part of the great flood
of memorials.

I was doing grieving circles at night at Friends General
Conference because there was a need from more grieving than usual life
allowed and these circles were crowded with amazing stories and so many

When we moved back to Vermont, I was relieved of doing regular
hospital visits and the density of memorials. But became part of the rural
work of education and service. Bill, my best friend, began a decline
slowly. He would have a rally and stay strong for a bit. And then some
other infection would bring him low again and his true love did an amazing
job of care, beyond what I could do, I am sure.

And by the time Bill died I was nearly numb to the great pain of the world in this pandemic. It had
become my coming of age in my early 30's and now had squashed my heart and
hope almost two decades later. I still teach about AIDS when I'm invited.
And I still lay hands on people with AIDS as a massage therapist and energy
worker. And a couple of friends, still living, are among the very first
people diagnosed in NYC in the very early 80's.

Recently I worked with a young doctor from Rwanda whose life work has become pediatric AIDS in a
children's hospital. He told me he felt numb and had no emotions left. We
discussed avoiding burnout, the advanced form. And we did some hands-on
work that felt full of Light and well guided from on high. He told me that
in Rwanda he had not seen the worst. I was afraid to ask what that meant in
Rwandan terms.

And this summer I'll return to an AIDS conference I have
been teaching at for more than 20 years. I'll see old dear ones and laugh
and clap my hands as I walk to them calling out in a loud voice Oh For God's
Sake, Are You Still Alive?! And we'll hug and laugh to still be here, still
be doing the work, still be grateful for so many things. And I'll talk
quietly with the newly diagnosed- young girls and boys and some grandmothers
- and find some ways to help them relax and maybe to laugh and maybe dare to
hope that as bad as the news is, they can still do life and do it in a big
way with this new family as an anchor.

I am so honored and exhausted and
proud of what we've survived. I can't imagine a life without this education
that I never signed up for. And I'm so happy to have learned how to get up
each day and work in hell and that to go in smiling created the best chance
to carry Light as far into those dank corners as possible.

I still miss Bill, especially on this day, and listen to his speeches on tape and get
teary. But I remember his living more than his dying and his laughter more
than his tears. I was so dearly looking forward to getting old with him.
Now, I just remember how it felt to be with him and when I see some handsome
man walking down the beach, some part of me smiling inside says - hey Bill,
look at that! It's life itself that draws us on, that bright Light and hope
that we'll see how lovely life is.