World AIDS Day 2008

I think of them sometimes…all those beautiful, talented young men, dead long before their time. Ken and Paul. Bill and Michael. Freddie and Randy. Names I knew from books and the news…and Mark, whom I knew from childhood.

Mark was in his mid-20s when he died of pneumocystis pneumonia—those who saw him in his last days said he looked like he was in his 70s. He was arch and funny, and his family covered up the cause of his death because, in the late 1980s in Memphis, you didn’t admit that your son had died of AIDS.

There were women too, of course. Not as many—but those who lived with HIV and died of AIDS in the first 15 years of the epidemic suffered a great deal more than they should have. In those early days of the AIDS epidemic, the diagnosis criteria were based on the symptoms exhibited by men. Women often presented with serious gynecological symptoms, which weren’t included in the medical guidelines—for treatment, for clinical trials, or for declaring people eligible for social services.

So much suffering. So much death…

Today is World AIDS Day. I could give you lots of statistics that would probably make your eyes glaze over. If you want those statistics, all you have to do is use the search function for my blog and type in “HIV.”

But what I really want to do today is to remember those who have died, recognize those who are living with HIV/AIDS, and pray for the day when AIDS is a footnote in the history books—along with polio and smallpox.

And, always, I want to encourage you to be tested for HIV. Even if you think you have no risk factors. ESPECIALLY if you think you have no risk factors. (Check my sidebar for links that will connect you to an HIV testing location near you.)

Because the only way we are going to stop this epidemic is to ensure that those who are infected know it, and can take precautions to prevent spreading the virus to others. This means we have to destroy the stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS by making HIV testing routine for everyone, so that taking an HIV test is not some admission that you’ve been “doing something nasty.”

Today, I remember Mark and his family. I pray for those I know who are living with HIV.

And I pray that all of us will act wisely for ourselves and our partners. That we will have compassion for those who are infected, or affected by, HIV. That we will be the hands and feet of God in the world. That next World AIDS Day, I will be writing a different post…