Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

The first was World AIDS Day. Throughout the state, country and world people who have died because of AIDS were remembered. Those living were encouraged to be tested. Sections of the AIDS Quilt were displayed. At Coffee By Design, on Congress Street in Portland, a wall was covered with brown paper and markers were made available for people to write their own memorials. And I realized that I had to say a goodbye I never got to say to a man who died a couple of years ago.

In 8th grade Jody Lee came to my class to talk about living with HIV and AIDS. Until that moment this disease existed only anecdotally in my world. It was something that was destroying lives, families and communities in New York or California but not in Maine.

He came to a private catholic junior high and spoke frankly and openly about issues surrounding rape, being HIV positive and all the ramifications that had in his life. Ten years later, after I moved to Portland, I ran into him in a coffee shop I was working at.

We became friends over time and coffee. And eventually, his three legged cat began to like me.

When I went to get the results from my first HIV test, Jody waited for me. I got an answer he would never get.

Jody was always making things for people. He went through a spell where he made dream-catchers for those he cared about. The last time we saw each other, he gave me one.

I thought that I could be there for him someday, but I let the daily work of life get in the way of living. Weeks went by. And when I called one day hoping to catch up on lost time, I got a message saying the number had been disconnected.

I found out later he had died. He died before the virus could get him or, as obituaries like to euphemistically say “unexpectedly.”

AIDS is a devastating disease. In China alone, low-end estimates predict that 260,000 children will be left orphaned because of AIDS as it spreads and people are killed. By now, everybody has heard about what it’s done to Africa. I don’t have the audacity to say that anything good has come from this scourge, but it took Jody’s death to teach me to value those who are with me today.

I’m sorry, Jody.

These words don’t make any difference to him now. But as another World AIDS Day passes and we hear again about the dangers of unprotected sex and STDs, I hope that we can also learn about the value of this temporary thing we call life. Positive or negative, cure or no cure, after we get done memorializing and eulogizing the dead we need to learn to spend more time with loved ones who are here still.

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