Monday, March 28, 2011

Too Many Ribbons

I came of age in the early 1980s and just as I began my life as an out gay man, there was a disease rapidly spreading through the gay community.  It started as "the gay cancer" and eventually was named AIDS.  Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  Over the course of the next fifteen years, it killed many of my new friends. 

People ran scared.  Some doctors and nurses refused to treat patients with AIDS, cemeteries refused to bury people with AIDS and  family members refused to touch or love people with AIDS.  It was a horrible time, but we were brought together as a gay community with one enemy in mind: AIDS.  People like Elizabeth Taylor gave us a voice, when we had a president who wouldn't publicly acknowledge the disease. Celebrities like Rock Hudson had to die before we knew it could touch anyone.  

In my personal life, AIDS touched me many times.  I helped take care of two close friends who both died.  I sat by their bedside, gave them sponge-baths, read to them when they could no longer see, and held their hands as they struggled to take final breaths.  I even briefly entertained the idea of assisting one as he wanted to commit suicide because the pain was so great. 

The low point was the week I went to three memorial services in a course of four days. Death was all around us and we never got a reprieve.  Eventually all the infected friends were gone, except for a few who are miraculously still healthy today. Life went on and I thought I was done. 

Fast forward to now.  I'm a man in my mid forties and I have a new enemy.  Cancer.  I have lost too many of my friends now over the past few years to cancer.  Same insidiousness as before, just a different colored ribbon to wear on my lapel.  

Yesterday I found out that an acquaintance, a couple of years younger than me, has been diagnosed with cancer now.  This is after the grandparents, the police sergeant, the acting teacher and mentor, the volunteers, the retired stage hand, the friend's mom, and other friends have already gone.  

How many tears do I have left?  How much scar tissue can the heart take? 

When I'm really positive, I can take all this in and learn lessons from it.  We must live each day to it's fullest and we should never let a day go by without telling the ones we love that we love them and that I'm lucky to have known such wonderful people.

On the days where I'm exhausted and can't seem to get out of bed, I pick up my feet, roll out of bed anyway and keep moving.  It's all I can do to fake it.

Maybe today is the day someone learns how to beat cancer's ass!

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