I remember each of them. The young man whose mother wouldn't come to see him because she believed that AIDS was God's punishment for his being gay. The young mentally-retarded girl who didn't know she had contracted the disease from the boyfriend who took her welfare check every month. The brilliant tenor and composer. The ballet dancer. The urbane and witty book editor.. The young man whose heartbroken parents whispered his diagnosis to me as we rode to the cemetery in the undertaker's limousine. The seminary classmates. The priests. The ones who could not face their diagnosis until they were dying -- Bob, who ran from hospital to hospital, searching for a different answer; Irwin, who denied it as long as he could stand upright and then lay in his hospital bed, silent and wide-eyed with fear. And the ones who could: Walley, who asked me to move his hand for him when he could no long lift it, and who told me that this life is a school for the next one.
And I think of all those living: living and laughing, raising children, burying parents. Taking their medication, getting their bloodwork, and then going back to work. Starting new careers. Preaching sermons. Buying houses. Living life, for as long as God gives life.
It was surreal in the old days of AIDS: funerals and more funerals. It could be three or four in a week. Young people dying, over and over and over. There had been nothing like it before -- not the 1917 flu epidemic nor the Black Death, which picked people off in a matter of hours. This was different: it was slow, an epidemic of wasting away, of disappearing slowly, before the horrified eyes of beloved friends and stricken families. It felt like our whole ministries would be spent this way, burying the wasted bodies of young people.
And then, a miracle: people arrested in their dying and returned to health. The cost was huge and the side effects could be hard, but soon people could think of planning lives instead of funerals. That is what HIV/AIDS is like today: a chronic disease.
Well, that's what it's like here, anyway. A least, it is for people who can access heath care. For people educated in the facts about the disease. It continues to be the scourge of the poor, and of whole nations in Africa, Asia, Central America; people die quickly of it there, far from refrigerators, from drug stores, far from doctors and dependable suppliers of medication. Womena nd children, mostly, worn down by their poverty to be easy marks for disease.
I have all my old AIDSWALK buttons in a drawer somewhere. One of them says "It Ain't Over Yet." And it still ain't.
I'm so grateful to the many farmers who have donated so generously, online and by mail, to AIDSWALK/NY in support of my goal of reaching $5,000. Thanks and thanks! I'm not there yet, but am much closer than I was, and I pray that we will go over the top! Every dollar that can be raised is sorely needed --- the scourge of HIV/AIDS is not over yet, by any means: there is still no cure. I am especially concerned about a recent slight uptick in new cases among young people, a generation that has no memory of the dreadful early years of the epidemic and is apt to take good health for granted. I hope those of you in New York this Sunday will join Episcopal Response to AIDS at the 8 am Eucharist in Central Park Eucharist, at which I will preach -- visit www.erany.org for more information about the location. To sponsor my walk online, visit www.aidswalk.net/newyork and click on "sponsor a walker." To do so by mail, send a check made to "AIDSWALK/NY" to me at 387 Middlesex Avenue, Metuchen, NJ 08840