Remembering a Friend Who Died With AIDS
Tomorrow the Knight family is joining some Twitter friends to participate in the 2009 Charlotte AIDS Walk to raise awareness, to raise money for the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (a great local organization), and to remember those who have passed on.
Tomorrow I’ll be walking, in part, in memory of Joe Hallett, the first person I knew who had AIDS, the first person I knew who died with AIDS. Joe was a prominent “ex-gay” activist, founder of an “ex-gay” ministry in Minneapolis, and a brilliant writer. Joe allowed me to re-publish some of the articles he’d written for his ministry newsletters in my fledgling underground ‘zine, Kamikaze. I also published some of Joe’s beautiful poetry.
Joe’s account of living with AIDS in this particular piece, published in Kamikaze in April 1995, still grips me today. I republish it here to raise awareness of the ongoing suffering of those with AIDS, to honor Joe’s memory and the impact that he had on my life and so many other people’s lives, and to share Joe’s message of hope in the midst of pain:
Nine years ago, the doctors gave me two years to live. By the standards of the western world, I am of all men the most hopeless. I live on a limited income due to the disabling influence of AIDS. I am in almost constant pain. At times it seems as if my whole body is threatening to fall apart. My head, joints, and muscles ache. My stomach contorts at every meal, and diarrhea is a constant companion. I am harassed by a host of minor annoyances and complications. My skin flakes and peels. I am always getting a cold or just getting over one. I have fungal infections on my skin, under my skin, in my throat and mouth. Even mosquito bites can be a menace to me. I have had Pneumosystis Pheumonia, raging fevers and many other things. At this writing, I have been hospitalized eight times. Tomorrow I could have parasites in my brain, or CMV or any number of diseases. In a week or two, I could be dead.
No matter how my disease sets me off as different in our society, I’m not really different from anyone else born into this world. The moment we are born we begin walking the road toward death. We cannot avoid it. All the hairpin angles and turns we make, attempting to elude death, always lead us back to its door.
Death, though often discussed in the media, is the one thing we dare not touch or stare at too boldly. The old in our society we put away, out of sight, out of mind. Our nursing homes are full of those who have been abandoned. The disabled too, we push to the periphery of our lives and society. We whisper about AIDS in the abstract and occasionally visit a quilt, but does this change the way we live?
Hope, in such an age, becomes a kind of denial. We get our tummies and fannies tucked. If we can afford it, we lift from our faces any traces of age. In North America alone, billions of dollars are spent every year to disguise the evidence of our mortality. As a society, we learn to worship the young, the beautiful, the fit.
But it is of no avail. At every turn, we suffer loss, and all of it tastes of death. It confronts us daily in a thousand little ways. Our hair falls out; our bodies thicken, and lose their hardness; jobs are lost; relationships fall apart; children grow and leave; houses burn; pets die. Again and again, death hammers into our lives, leaving each of us more and more desolate.
I have lost thirteen friends to AIDS. With each death, I taste my own. I cannot escape it; I can no longer deny it. I can only face it. Despite this final obstacle yawning chasm-like on the road up ahead, I am not completely helpless. I have acquired a whole arsenal of weapons as I have walked this path. I have faith, hope, love, and a knowledge of who God is that will not desert me. My suffering has meaning because my life has value. I am not some cosmic orphan in the universal scheme of things. I have a name, a place, and a Father who loves me so much that He suffered His Son to die rather than live without me (John 3:16-18, NIV).
Death has lost its sting. It is only a door and not the end.
So, the question before each of us is not a matter of when will death claim us, but how do we live our lives until that moment? What gives your life value? What gives your pain meaning? From where does your hope come?
Please share this message with others, and please consider supporting the work of RAIN by donating to the TwitterToesTweetFeet Team that I’ll be a part of in tomorrow’s AIDS Walk. Also, watch for updates from the walk on Twitter by following #AIDSWalkCLT.
More From Joe: Download this column written by Joe Hallett, originally published in the July/August 1995 issue of Kamikaze Magazine: “What do you see when you picture God? The image painted in our mind says much more about us, personally, than it does about God.”