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Tuesday, May 1, 2012


A few weeks ago a friend I'd dropped out of touch with found me via facebook, and she said how good I was looking compared to 10 years ago, and that in fact she was surprised I was still alive.

And 10 years ago I sure as hell didn't think I'd still be here today. But I'm glad I am.

One of the things about those days was the AIDS quilt.

Last week the NZ AIDS Memorial Quilt was handed over to Te Papa, which is probably the best place for it now. I didn't go to the ceremony. I felt a little guilty about that. But I've always had an ambivalent relationship with the quilt I guess.

I asked myself whether or not I wanted to be remembered with one or not a few times, assuming I'd died of course. I used to go out and speak about living with AIDS in schools with it at times.

Some of the panels still make me cry, when I see the names of guys who were my friends decades ago, who died before I came back to NZ. But it also seems caught up in that era of death and suffering that now seems so distant.

It's hard to recall just how black and hopeless things were in the old days of AIDS. On the one hand you want to say "Never forget" on the other, I know that like any graveyard, in time nearly all of those named on the quilt will pass into oblivion. That pain and anguish, the tears and suffering, and the heroism and love, will all be forgotten in a few more decades.

It really did feel like living in a war-zone.

It was a time of amazing struggles, self-sacrifice, pain, anguish and love. It turned people's lives upside down, and there was a time when going to one or more AIDS funerals a month wasn't unusual at all.

For me anyway, death seemed everywhere, and my own death seemed to be right there in front of me.

I consciously decided to try and have a good death, and I have to say that preparing to die has been the most meaningful project I've ever undertaken - nothing else has seemed so gripping as focusing on how to exit well. So I spent about 3 years of my life focussing on my death, preparing for it, not willing to die in the way I'd seen others - I wanted "a good death" whatever that is.

But I didn't die, in fact, I am in better health now than I have been in years, as is the case with so many HIV+ people.

So I guess I feel a reluctance to return to that era of sorrow and death. That's what I didn't go to the quilt ceremony, and that's why I won't be going to the Candlelight Memorial either. I feel as though my life was soaked in death and pain and sorrow over those years, it was woven into the fabric of my being.

I can understand now why so many soldiers who come back from war don't want to talk about it all. It was traumatic, it was painful, it was a shocking thing to live through.

I do remember, I won't forget, but I have this sense that I have done enough mourning.

Now I want to stand in the sunlight and laugh.

1 comment:

Phillip Wessels said...

I think you have exactly the right attitude. Seems to me wisdom and compassion are what anyone should ultimately take away from times of suffering—at least if they're to maintain some semblance of sanity. Heavy and dark grief after so long a time takes its toll. I wouldn't want people to turn the pain of my death into a lifetime of pain. We have to learn to look to the future and make it a better one, knowing what we know.