Yesterday was World AIDS Day. And most of the day I had these snatches of things I wanted to say–thoughts and memories that would cross my mind. I never got around to writing them down, but this morning things are quiet and dark and still. Writing comes easier in such stillness.
I do not live with HIV/AIDS myself, nor am I at any measurable risk of that happening. But I love very much people who do. And I’ve met others. And studied the statistics regarding HIV/AIDS worldwide. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that far too often HIV/AIDS, a disease that does not itself discriminate, becomes a tool of discrimination and fear and hate.
In 2013, there were approximately 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS. 16 million of those were women at least 15 years old or older. Around 3.2 million of those were children under 15 years of age. That math translates into this: the majority of those 32 million people are women and children. And while I haven’t looked at global stats broken down by countries or communities in a while, I know that those women and children largely come from countries and communities that are impoverished and have been for generations. They also mostly aren’t white.
Statistics are statistics and if you want more (or want to check mine) surf on over yourself to the World Health Organization’s pages on HIV/AIDS and do just that. I encourage it. Really.
But the bottom line is this: HIV/AIDS is preventable. Treatable. Manageable. And yet an epidemic soars and people die and while there are folks all over the world on the front lines of advocacy and research, there are just as many folks who think it doesn’t matter, or far worse, judge those who have it as deserving of it.
That’s not okay with me.
Because a dear friend is positive. And I know him to be a person who has lived his life in service to others with a level of compassion most folks would struggle to even consider.
Because a child I know and care about is positive, and he’s got a smile that lights up any room he’s in.
Because I know young people who have struggled with drug addiction, specifically drugs that use needles that sometimes aren’t clean.
It should not be okay with you either.
Because across this whole wide world women are subject to sexual and physical abuse as if chattel, as if less than human, as if solely objects to be used.
Because across this whole wide world children have no voice. And therefore are often invisible. Even, and sometimes especially, as they lay dying.
Because being gay is not a crime. It is not a sin. It is who some people are. The way we, across the whole wide world, collectively, have judged and pushed aside those who identify as gay continues to be a blight on the soul of humanity. Many gay men (not all) are at high risk for HIV/AIDS, but that is no reason to judge even further. What it ought to be is a reason to invite conversation and understanding such that healing is made possible.
Because drug addiction is entirely non-discriminatory. Heroine, especially, is an equal-opportunity predator when it comes to age, race, socioeconomic status or any other qualifier of one’s lot in life.
At the core of all this, is, I believe a matter of faith. It’s easy to talk about caring for the least of these. It’s another matter entirely to get our hands dirty and our hearts broken for those who hurt most and who hurt alone in God’s world.
I’ve long thought it appropriate that World AIDS Day falls in December, a month when we spin closer to the shortest and darkest and stillest days of the year in order that we might spin back out into light and new life. Appropriate, too, that it falls just at the beginning of Advent, for people of Christian faith, a season when we are called to remember what it means to hope against the darkness, and to make room for something new and unlike anything we’ve known before.
And so I hold up to the darkness, trusting light will emerge, those who live with HIV/AIDS and those who love them most. And I celebrate those who fight for their lives every day. And I long for a time when disease of any kind–but most certainly this one–is no longer cause for fear, but a prompt to compassion. For all God’s people.