This year, World AIDS Day is a tough one for me. I usually don’t try to suss out why, but the personal reasons this year are obvious, sometimes nearly orthogonal and exceedingly multiple.
Hope is a tricky thing. When there’s a lot of hopefulness (quantity), it lacks specificity (quality), and when it’s quite specific, it is small and personal in its solicitude. I don’t like to think that this is simply the nature of Hope itself, but instead some too-obvious pattern of human economy, where one thing always has to take from another, when jealousy or morality steps in to question the value of certain kinds of Hope when those things Wished For cast too long a shadow on other forms.
I have had the extraordinary experience of rediscovering a friend from High School who blessedly and thankfully has ended up with an M.D./Ph.D. and works so industriously and brilliantly to combat the human suffering caused by infectious agents—including HIV. Her work, her person is a powerful and pointed example of why Hope has merit in this world and why pessimism serves nothing but its own unimaginative purpose. Her staggering brilliance and admirable use of it humbles me.
Then there’s the synergistic timing of reading a futurist book, including talk of the wonders of the future of medical advances and technological advances—or, more to the point, the flipside of all that: those who didn’t quite make it to the next level of available palliatives and curatives. Of course I speak about Allen Howland and what he lost by not being here to experience the wonders of the world and what the world has lost by losing the million things that were alive in that marvelous memory and intellect of his and what the immediate constellation of friends and family have personally missed out on as we all continue to miss him.
This applies to anyone who’s lost anyone special to them, naturally, and for the time being, death is something we have no preventatives for—though I think one day that will change, perhaps in time for those of us alive today to exploit. So why specify AIDS as any more or less a cause of death than cancer or accident or murder? Why have a day for it?
To this I answer a question with a question: why must the assumption be made that World AIDS Day detracts or somehow competes at all?
To this I answer a question with solid science laced with Hope:
- HIV is infectious: awareness and diligence have an effect on slowing or stopping HIV.
- Scientific knowledge learned here can be applied to a vast array of other maladies: viral mechanics, cellular communications mechanisms, protein synthesis, gene activation and molecular pathways and epidemiology and morality and ethics and social phenomenon all play a part and knowledge about each has increased dramatically, directly, from AIDS-related research.
- The Past must be preserved: “out of sight, out of mind” applies. And “out of mind” leads to “out of consideration” which leads to behaviors that favor the continued transmission of HIV and other socially- and sexually-transmitted diseases.
- AIDS affects 40 million people around the world: imagine if all 40 million were Americans: then every seventh person you walked by in a typical day could be assumed to be HIV+.
- Three million people became HIV+ in 2005 alone, and eight thousand people die from HIV-disease-related causes every day. Five people every second. That means by the time you got to these words in this entry, another 150 to 300 people have died.
And Yet? Hope.
Hope, in spite of a staggering loss worldwide and individually. Hope, in spite of moralists who’d rather see people die than live the “wrong” way. Hope, in spite of missing Allen and Bob and Kelly and George. Hope, in spite of worrying about J. and M. and V. and B. and S. and M. and J. and high percentage of gay male San Franciscans getting sick and leaving us too soon, far, far too soon.
And finally, Hope. Hope that keeping present the staggering loss and the ongoing pain and the simple remembrance of the bad things, the hurtful things, the things we were taught to feel shame over will lead to more and more Hope of a healed future.
Perhaps I feel so downtrodden and debilitated in the present because I feel so full of the future and that takes me away from the Now.
And that’s why we—that’s why I—need a World AIDS Day: as a reminder that the only chance of making a difference is to be in the Now and DO SOMETHING, even if that’s reaffirming that you won’t negligently or intentionally become HIV+ or if you already are HIV+, that it ends with you.