THE GIFT OF AIDS
by David R. Patient
For many people reading this, trying to find any gift in the AIDS experience may seem difficult,
if not impossible. However, in the seventeen years that I have been part of the HIV reality I have obtained many gifts from
this epidemic. I would like to share these gifts with you in the hopes that it will mobilize you into action, or
sustain your efforts. Life gives us gifts in strange packages. At first we are often only aware of what we are
losing. It is only over time that we can see what we have gained.
Here are the gifts that I have received from AIDS:
THE GIFT OF INTIMACY
I have walked with many frighten souls on their journey through AIDS. Many of these journeys have been right to
the gates of death, where they have walked through and I have been left on this side. To be there at the end of this journey
for another, assuming their abilities as they lose them, is a humbling experience for the most hardened of people, including
myself. To have them choose me as their guide into death, where all facades are dropped and nothing but pure honesty
exists between us, is the gift of true intimacy.
It is God in action, totally non-judgmental, and with no need to fix a situation that isn't broken. It is about
simply being there for the other person with no need to control the outcome, yet doing everything within my power to ensure
their illness and eventual death will be with dignity.
Countless people have entered my life as a direct result of their diagnosis, or mine. The influences we have
had on each other outweigh the demands put on our relationship - the pain and suffering, loss of dignity, and often the
loss of faculties - as we touched the face of God together. It is through the intimacy of dying that I have learned
about vulnerability and opening up my heart to a greater acceptance of myself and others.
'Alas for those who cannot sing but die with all their music still in them.' "As I go on
living with AIDS I want to keep singing and hope that friends will continue to hear me - even when the song is a sad one."
THE GIFT OF SURRENDER
Many times during my illness -and those of people I have supported - I have had to simply let go of my need
to control the outcome. Considering my high need for control, this was no easy accomplishment. To totally relinquish
control for me equated to trusting the process that was unfolding in front of me. It is a behavior I have had to
learn, as it wasn't't inherent in my coping styles. I had to learn to just be there for someone who was dying,
simply loving and supporting their process without judging it or making it wrong or bad. I had to confront
the reality that there is a much bigger plan acting itself out, regardless of my illusion of being able
to control what was happening. I had to accept reality as it is, and not the way I feel it could,
should or ought to be. For me, surrender became an act of having enough control to let go of my
need to control. In time, I learned that there was nothing 'wrong' with the dying person's
process. I was simply grateful for the privilege to be there as the Plan moved forward in it's mysterious way.
"I am grateful for the time I have spent with you.
I am sad that I will have to leave you someday soon.
Thank you Ron.
Thank you Mom and Dad.
I love you."
THE GIFT OF COMMUNITY
When AIDS enters a society or group, it shatters relationships with fear and ignorance. However, as the old
disappears, a new community arises. Those infected and affected gather together, to form a Chosen Community. They form
support networks, caregiver agencies, underground treatment and medication smuggling networks and even meals on
wheels. This takes time, but it happens. More importantly, relationships form beyond the fear, beyond the
stigma, and are held together by care, respect, and love. Some friends and family remain, many leave.
Those that remain do so because they choose to.
In time, this act of sharing begins to create an AIDS community, with people from all walks of life coming
together to love and support one another. Suddenly race, language, religious beliefs and sexual orientation fell by the
wayside. Relationships are forged across gaps that were once too large to navigate due to limited beliefs and opinions
about 'those' people, which soon dissolve into an act of simply supporting one another. The gift of community grows
out of a common cause for a need for a compassionate response to AIDS.
As a result, our sense of connectedness is expanded. You discover true relationship, true community, based upon
humanity and compassion, not convenience, culture, religion or birth. We have all heard, many times, that we are all
connected, and AIDS highlights this, and turns Sunday values into everyday reality and action. I am blessed to
know who loves me, no matter where I have been, and what I have done. I have received the Gift of Community.
"In the midst of illness, rejection, isolation and even death,- out of the darkness - not
family, friends or lovers, but strangers loving, caring, giving of themselves- have renewed my faith
and are my strength-
I love you."
THE GIFT OF SERVICE
Think of a time you have allowed someone to do something for you, with no expectation of returning the favor.
At first it may have felt uncomfortable, or perhaps even unpleasant. However, when you allowed yourself to be supported
by someone who was able to be there for you, how wonderful a gift it proved to be.
To give of oneself is God in action. It's not about money, time or effort. It is about feeling compassion
and empathy for your fellow man, regardless of their race, gender, life style, culture, or religion. In service there
is no 'Us and Them' - there is only WE.
I am not talking about self-sacrifice or martyrdom. True service comes from knowing that you have enough
for yourself and for others. It is knowing that you are blessed with more than enough. It also means taking care
of yourself, so that you remain filled with more than enough. You cannot give what you do not have.
Service is not about rescuing people. It is about empowering them, knowing that they may lack resources and
skills. However, this does not take away from the fact that they are a child of God, no lesser and no greater than you.
All they need is someone to believe in them so that they can see their own personal power, regardless of how long
that may take. It often means seeing what they have not yet seen, namely that they have the power to change
their lives, despite all evidence to the contrary.
The gift of service merges giving and receiving into one single act of love. Receiving is giving and giving
is receiving. The gift of service has opened me to a greater appreciation of our connectedness.
"I am afraid that I may die alone.
What is even more frightening is that no one will care."
THE GIFT OF WISDOM
Think of something you have learned because of your giving care to another human being. Wisdom is captured
in the Serenity Prayer.' Lord, grant me the serenity to accepts the things I cannot change, the change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.'
There is wisdom in knowing when to speak, and when to remain silent. There is profound wisdom in knowing when
to touch and hold a hand, and when to allow the other person his or her privacy and aloneness.
Perhaps you have marveled at the miraculous complexity of the human body? The human body never lies. It tells
you what it needs as long as you can detach from your own internal dialogue and remove the judgments keeping you stuck in
a specific, and probably limiting, paradigm.
Perhaps it is something about courage and endurance, about love and relationship, about ethics and values?
Pause for a moment and think about how AIDS has brought you a wealth of wisdom.
"I have made my decision; I'am sitting tight until there's a cure.
Then as soon as a cure is found, I'll probably get so excited that I'll drop dead from a heart attack."
THE GIFT OF PRESENCE
Presence is about being here and now - in this very moment. The Gift of Presence is found in those experiences where
the intensity of the moment moved you so deeply that the past and future suddenly faded away and all of you responded, resonated
with the power of that moment.
When I am with someone who is dying, there is no future to ponder, and no past which needs to be considered.
All that matters is that I am here, right now. There is great power and joy in just being here, right now. I have no
need to delay telling the truth, and no need to postpone joy. This is the only moment I may have with this person,
and with myself. In this moment, it is good to be alive.
"Why is it only in death we can see the value of life?"
THE GIFT OF MEANING
I have learned to step beyond the surface meanings of culture, religion, political beliefs, differences in beliefs,
as a result of AIDS. It does not matter whether we have different beliefs. What matters is that we accept and respect each other.
Many of us, infected or affected came into this reality with many preconceived notions about people, cultures and
beliefs, yet AIDS has forced us to confront these limitations and has expanded our acceptance of our fellow man, regardless as
to whether we support the same beliefs or values. It has forced me to confront my need for seeking meaning by seeking only
what is the same as myself trying to order my world according to categories of who is similar to me, and who is not.
I have discovered that these categories have no substance, no meaning. Only compassion means something - we all
feel pain and pleasure - we all seek to connect with someone or something - we all want to know that we made
a difference - we are not separate.
"One day people will not judge a person by the colour of their skin,
their sex or their sexuality, but by the content of their character.
I hope that day is almost here."
Marquis D. Walker
THE GIFT OF LOVE
When I work directly with people with AIDS, I receive the Gift of Love, sometimes from the most unexpected places
Some years back I worked with a gay couple, both in the final stages of their lives. The one had been thrown out
of the family home some years earlier when he told his parents that he was gay and there had been no contact for many years.
In the final weeks leading up to his death, he asked me to inform his parents of his illness. Within six hours of my call
to his parents, these two 80 something year old people arrived at the couples home. Over the next weeks there were many
tears of sadness as well as joy. Eventually their son died and instead of heading back to their home, these two people
stayed with their son's partner, who for all intent and purpose was a total stranger, and nursed him into death over
the next four months. They took care of him as if he were their own flesh and blood. He died in their arms, loved
and respected for who he was and what he meant to their son.
I have also noticed that this Gift is lost when I forget the individuals behind the statistics and politics.
I pray that I never forget that love can only be given and received by people, not from beliefs, knowledge, money or
power. I pray that I remember each person, each smile, each tear.
"Losing them is almost unbearable.
Forgetting them will be impossible."
Mom and Dad A.
THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
Few people receive the gifts of intimacy, surrender, community, service, wisdom, presence, meaning and love in their
life-times. Most live in numbness and quiet desperation. To care for the seriously ill and dying is to touch the face of God,
and to stretch the limits of patience, compassion, and human potential. These are indeed difficult tasks, and the reward
is equally large. There is a deep sense gratitude - gratitude for the opportunity to be alive, to feel, to be here,
for the opportunity to be stretched to your limits, to reach out and truly touch and love another human being.
The dying have so much to teach the living, and the living are enriched in the process. What has the act
of care-giving allowed you to be grateful for?
"Life has touched me and I have touched life.
I have been blessed."
THE GIFT OF GOD
When I first started working in HIV AIDS many years ago, I seriously doubted that any God of Love and Mercy could
allow such suffering and human indignity. For years I was very angry at God for not intervening in some way, shape or form.
I was angry that My God would let me love someone with all my heart only to take them from me and leave me to pick up
the pieces of my life, not once, but twice. It was the death of my first partner that started me on the path to
realizing that God gives us choice, with no strings attached. I watched my lover die, and reaching out his
arms to hold God's love. He was so brave. Touching the face of God made me see that there was nothing
'wrong' with AIDS, human sexuality and even death. It was not a judgment or punishment or retribution for being who we are.
It is simply part of the cycle of life and once I removed my judgments about it, I could accept that I had to 'let go
and let God'. In this act, which was not simple by any stretch of the imagination, I found a friendship with God unlike any earth
bound relationship I have ever had. It became very clear to me that I could ask my friend God for any kind of help, as long as
I was wiling to do my part. It was not like I had been told that if I wanted something, I had to pray for it and then hand
it over to God to do something about. For me it became letting God work through me. It became a process of recognizing
God in everyone. Truly a case of the God in me recognizing the God in you.
Knowing, not just believing, that God loves me has given me the strength and will to do Gods work without questioning and constantly
asking 'why'? The greatest sin is to deny that that IS. Life without death would be insufferable. Death without life would be unthinkable.
How has the gift of God changed your perception of yourself and those around you?
"Have faith and trust God. He'll always bring you through.
And when you walk through a storm, keep your head up high. I am."