world aids day 2011…

December 2, 2011

I cried like a baby…I could barely even take pictures. I was so overwhelmed by so many gathering, people that are walking the HIV/AIDS path, the people that love them, and those we were remembering. There is something so powerful about a gathering of great kindness and compassion, the solidarity of standing together in love.

To know that you are not alone or forgotten…that even in something so dark there is hope. And I could tell, each person there, the 400 holding umbrellas held a story…and when you are in the middle of 400 stories representing a million more of people all over the world, you are also standing in a very great love, one that is palpable and surreal.

And you sort of start saying a quiet prayer in your heart that everyone could feel this. That the very person petrified to test would know this kind of love is waiting for them. And I know not every city can promise this, but my city can, because of the Fan Free Clinic and stories like this:

From a friend living with HIV:

My first statement is that living with HIV has been my blessing!!!!! By far the most challenging thing in my life! I have been so very blessed to be here, even though I have been positive for well over a decade, I am not your usual sleeping around type of guy, I infact was sexually assaulted by an ex partner. And still did not know for almost a year after. I will state that I chose a different route of feeling sorry for myself and blaming everyone, even though till this day I never cried about it. I choose to use drugs as my security blanket. But I am here to tell you that GOD and family does wonders, I went from having 9 t-cell and well into the millions in viral load to undetectable and healthy as a horse. My fight against HIV has been hard and I still have a long way to go….but instead of considering myself just living to die… I am dying to LIVE!!!!!! There is so much more I want to tell you I just wanted to give you some sort of idea of what to write….its all about HOPE. And also the LOVE I have experienced from my current partner who I see as a tree when I was in darkness and shadows lifted me in his branches and let the sun shine on my face….. I am me I am HIV positive I am here and I am NOT going anywhere!!!

There are really no words to totally capture the day…but the kind people of Big River did a really beautiful job telling the story.

I don’t know how to be anything but mushy and weepy about all this…and so proud. SO damn proud to call this place my home and these people friends and members of my community. I am humbled and honored to stand beside you.

Thank you to Richard Corbett and Julie Sulik for allowing me to be part of this amazing project and their incredible vision and heart, to Darlene for being my friend and sharing her story with me, to my new anonymous friend for sharing stories and more to come, to John Jessie for holding great heart space for change, to Kevin Clay who is a world changer in every way,  and to the Fan Free Clinic for showing me what it looks like to really care for people, all humans, with dignity and love.

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I never even asked her what her last name was. I was so lost in her story and the bright light and kindness in her eyes.

“People need to know Patience, especially black women, HIV is still out there, they need to hear our story…we need to take care of each other. Women are afraid, they are scared….especially black women, they don’t have to be afraid, this is my life. I have to keep growing, we can’t stop living because we are HIV positive…”

We sat on a cozy plaid couch in a quiet room at the Fan Free Clinic. If we had a cup of tea, it would have felt like we were in her living room but it was the testing and counseling room. I thought of all the men and women, families, mothers that had sat on that couch, alone or with hands clenched tight with a loved one, waiting to find out if HIV would now be part of their lives and future.

Darlene told me how she prayed while she sat crying on a brick wall at 3am by herself one night,  hearing the police coming, not knowing they were coming for her.

“I prayed to God, ‘Please God, please take this taste from my mouth, please, if you do, I’ll never do drugs again’. God bless those police, they took me in.”

After that night, Darlene spent 2 years in a city jail and graduated after 2 years in drug court, a program designed to helps folks struggling with addiction. It was during her drug court time that she found out she was HIV positive. Shortly after she found her way to the support and love of the Fan Free Clinic.

I was struck by her gentle strength and resolve. I asked her how she found her way through.

“This is not a death threat…I still can love you and you can still love me…I cry a lot, I pray to God, ‘It’s just you and me with this virus…I am gonna love on people’. You don’t have to be alone with this virus, just hold on – Life is gonna still be there- and you just gotta love on people…I am still here.”

HIV is still here.

Darlene is still here.

Life is still here.

And love is at the bottom of everything.

I couldn’t help but think of all the people that are still searching for what Darlene knows, all the women and men that have yet to discover what real love looks and feels like it, how it can heal your soul…and all the women that Darlene is holding in her heart, the women she hopes will hear her story,  those at risk with new and stronger strains of HIV finding it’s way back into ALL of our lives and communities, whole groups of people forgotten… it is time for us to remember.

I am so honored that I will get to stand next to Darlene and so many others on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2011. I would like to invite you to join me for this amazing act of kindness on us all.

From http://www.RVARemembers.com:

 On December 1, 2011, something truly breathtaking in its simplicity and power is going to happen in Richmond, Virginia. At precisely 12 o’clock, 400 red umbrellas will pop open on an island in the James River to symbolize a recommitment to education and prevention and hope. At that exact moment Richmond will lead the Commonwealth and the nation in saying, “30 years is simply too long.” We will remind our neighbors near and far that the fight is not yet won and that complacency and indifference are taking precious lives. At precisely 12:00 o’clock, we will unite, reinvigorated, in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

If you would like to know more about purchasing an umbrella, volunteering or even just standing with us, visit RVARemembers or follow all the latest on the Facebook and Twitter pages.