This weekend I lost a dear friend, J, to AIDS. Despite everything I know and have seen of the ravages of this brutal disease, much of it learned alongside J. in Africa, the death is a shock. There are people out there who have watched generations of their friends and loved ones die from this disease, but in my heterosexual, white, and affluent life, this is my first very close experience with the devastation of the virus.
It is with J. and our exchange team in South Africa where I came to believe in God. That trip was a life-changing experience for me, in no small part because of his influence. He shared with me his contagious love of life, his open-heartedness, his absolute lovable nastiness, so many of his irritating habits, and most surprisingly to me, his unwavering faith in God. The night after he disclosed his HIV status with our team, the night after we started calling him “Tati J,” we attended a song and dance session performed by children at an AIDS hospice. I was devastated by my own negativity when I watched the children laugh and sing, thinking fatalistic thoughts about their life expectancy, the absolute brutality of a virus that could hurt such beautiful people, and the horrible inequity of it all. J. smiled at me, put his arm around me, comforted me, and told me that God was with them. I hugged him back, loving every inch of him, marveling at his strength and will. Since I heard of his passing, I have heard his laughter, his cries, his little pearls of wisdom, in my mind throughout the days and especially, as I’m falling asleep at night. Now that he is with God, he is still comforting me. If I know him at all, he is probably serving up doses of his hard-won wisdom, laughing it up, and providing comfort to the lesser angels.
I love you, Jbear.
And to all of my friends who work so hard to prevent, cure, or treat this disease, or assist those living with HIV/AIDS, keep it up. You gave him many more years of life than he expected, but not nearly as many as he deserved.