Today is the designated day to highlight the suffering and death caused by AIDS. World AIDS Day. For some it is all too real. For others, AIDS is simply an abstract of life which hasn't affected them.
AIDS will be forever linked with homosexuality. Why, we don't know, but it is. While its true that the stigma of homosexual behavior, of which many believe AIDS is a consequence shades the issue somewhat, its not true that everyone struggling with AIDS should have to bear the additional hurt, shame and anger over homosexuality.
With the release of my book Touching A Dead Man, my own life has pretty much been an open book. I didn't play it "safe" and quite frankly as a younger man, didn't think anything about sexual diseases of any kind. The prevailing sexual attitude when I slid into the upside of being sexually adventurous in the early 80s was "its good, go get it". No one thought of much else. I sure didn't. But we have seen millions of people die from our collective,careless ignorance. And I fear that unless there is a drastic, personal awakening to the danger of careless thinking, millions more will die, despite the world's best efforts. World AIDS day will be...just another day. But in my opinion, its those personal stories that hopefully will make someone else think and not follow the path to loss and death.
I make it a point to talk about my own confessed sexual promiscuity, not to play judge on other's lives or to act as if my own merits saved me, but to highlight the mercy shown to me by God. It was because He decided to spare me --despite my willful ignorance-- that I am a grateful man. Several years ago, that point was driven home personally in my life when I was asked by a former pastor to visit a young man in our congregation who was on his deathbed from AIDS.
It was my first up close encounter with someone who was at the door of death, so yes I was a little scared. The young man was in his late twenties and I could tell he had been a handsome guy. But the disease had robbed him of all that. He was a pale shadow of his former self. He was eerily frail and in and out of his sanity. He remembered me from church when I came in and though I was physically shocked, I sat down and found myself holding his cool hand. We talked and soon he fell asleep. I continued to hold his hand, but thought to myself. This could have been me.
My friend James, a photographer, who came out of homosexuality about four years ago told me that when he went to the Millions More March, he ran into one of his old roomies. After inquiring about Ben, a close former friend, he was stunned to find out Ben was dead of AIDS.
"At first I didn't believe it, until the next day back in Atlanta, I went to the AIDS Walk and it was confirmed by another former friend of ours. I thought the whole thing was ironic that throngs of people were out at the AIDS Walk "celebrating" around a disease that was ripping families apart and causing so much pain. I was hurting as I looked at the AIDS Quilt. People walking around signing a "memorial" quilt of death. I had lost some dear friends, and all they get is their name on a tattered cloth?"
James told me that out of his five gay friends only two are left. He is one of them. He too has come to a realization that only God could protect you from this when you yourself are isolated from recognizing its dangers.
"That night after the AIDS walk," James said, "I sat down at my home and was overwhelmed, thankful, sad, despondent, thankful...all of that. All my friends were gone. Three were confirmed dead to AIDS complications. One was church boy gone astray, and then there was me. I asked God why am I still here, why was I kept here? I certainly didn't deserve it. I was a mess just like everyone else. How did I make it despite all the drama?"
Sadly, the banner message coming the organizers of World AIDS Day is "Wise up. Wear it. Where's yours?". It appears to be a played off condom warning. That is a sorely impotent message, but maybe that's all they have. That's the extent of their responsive understanding.
I'm not at all sure that it helps anymore to cite how many people are infected with AIDS. At this point the numbers are numbing. I'm not saying that because I don't have AIDS, but because too much of anything lends to burnout and then complacency. Neither am I a advocate of "protection", "safe sex" or increased government spending. If any of that was truly effective, the numbers would be decreasing, not increasing.
The advent of AIDS may have changed some folk's sexual habits, but I don't think in general there has been widespread change of heart or action. The slowing of death has been largely due to medical advances.
I do advocate personal responsibility and personal awareness of one's life[style]. Only you can save your life from AIDS. But, in case you, like I used to be, are foolish, ignorant and careless, I pray that the mercy of God cover you and that one day His mercy would lead you into a beautiful relationship with Him. In that case, only God can save your life from AIDS.