Thursday, December 01, 2016
Living with AIDS
On this World AIDS Day, I am thinking about the term "living with AIDS." I rejoice at the medical advances that make that possible, but not without grieving for the multitudes who didn't make it over that particular line in history.
I am remembering the late 1980s when my husband was, for a time, the only Episcopal priest in Fort Worth who would conduct funerals for AIDS patients. How many funerals did we attend of young men whose families refused to come to the hospital to see them as they were dying, much less to their funerals?
Every Christmas I am reminded of Tom, who left me his amazing fabulous Christmas decorations and memories of so many friendly arguments over meals. If you think our Christmas decorations are just a teeny bit over the top, thank sweet stubborn talented Tom.
I am remembering the times parts of the Quilt came to Fort Worth and we stood for tear-stained hours in the Will Rogers Exhibit Hall reading aloud one by one the names on those quilts, tears eventually making it hard to see the names.
I am remembering my husband firmly explaining to a father who showed up just after we finished burying the ashes of his son in the church garden that no, he could not have the keys to his son's house - a house whose address the father didn't even know, having disowned his son years before. That house was willed to his son's partner, who had cared for him in the much too short time from diagnosis to death, and who now faced his own death from AIDS. I thought my oh-so-gentle husband was going to punch the man out when he tried to bully the partner into giving him the house keys.
I am remembering the many mothers who my husband persuaded to come see their dying children. They would sidle into the hospital rooms, gasp at the sight of their sons, and then, well, they either left weeping or they fell to their knees by the beds, weeping. Some of those who left came back when they had recovered from the shock. Some never did come back. Most made us promise to never tell their husbands -- the fathers of these men -- that they had come to the hospital.
But there was one father who did come -- to tell his son he was damned to hell. He managed to get most of that sentence out before we hustled him out of the room and called hospital security.
I remember the lesbians who cared tenderly for so many sick gay men -- especially men whose partners had already died, men who had no one else to care for them. This was at a time when gay men barely acknowledged common cause with lesbian women, indeed sometimes were hostile to the women. That gap was bridged with the loving care of countless women and the gratitude of way too many dying men.
I remember hearing a woman tell of persuading her priest to bury her son, who had died of AIDS, only to have the priest come up to this grieving mother at the funeral reception and say, "Well, I did my best, but I have to tell you that your son is burning in hell."
So, no, I have no patience with anti-gay crap or with those who vote for people who espouse such views. I especially have no patience with those who use the Bible and God to hammer LGBT folk. In The Episcopal Church, when a baby -- or anyone else -- is baptized, the bishop or priest dabs his or her thumb in blessed oil and makes the sign of the Cross on the person's forehead, saying, "You are sealed as Christ's own forever." There is no asterisk, no conditions are put on that baptism. As Bishop Barbara Harris famously proclaimed, "There are no half-assed baptisms!"
I believe we are all -- straight, LGBTQ, black, white, brown, Indigenous, male, female, gender non-conforming -- ALL OF US named or unnamed are God's own, created in God's image, beloved children of a loving God.
And it will be in the name of those who didn't get to "live with AIDS" that I will stand my ground with that statement for however many time it's needed in the next four years. I hope you will join me.