World AIDS Day

This photo was the runner up to my Photo Friday “Twilight” theme. The red ribbon on the jacket of Eclipse has always reminded me of the years and years I made and handed out red ribbon pins to coworkers, friends, and strangers. This year, the red ribbon is packed away in storage. The newsletters I used to write, and the blog posts I used to publish, about HIV and AIDS are no longer necessary because if you are already using the Internet, you can find all the local resources and global information you want or need at your fingertips.

But for those of us with longer and more personal memories, this never stops being a day to reflect on those lost, hope for the best for those who still struggle, and feel gratitude for those who stay well thanks to the efforts and sometimes downright fury of the ones who went before them.

The theme of World AIDS Day this year is “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability, and Partnerships.” One of many things AIDS/HIV has taught us is that we are stronger together, and that we must never be silent in the face of catastrophe. AIDS/HIV transcends borders, politics, race, religious belief, gender, sexuality, age, and national origin, and so must we in eradicating it.

And for the ones I love still–Steve R, Jeff C, John M, and Tim R–I continue to wear my red ribbon pin each year on December 1 in honor of them.

Veterans Day

In the early nineties I began to educate myself about AIDS and the staggering loss of life it caused. I read and heard too many accounts of people losing their friends at an age when that seemed impossible–all these young people taken at a time when their lives were either blossoming with new experiences and accomplishments or they were enjoying the results of those.

The only metaphor I could think of was war. Where else had young men and women seen their friends and equals (among their own and their enemies) die at such young ages but war? AIDS was a disease that laid waste to a generation the way Vietnam did my brother’s, or World War 2 my parents’, and the Gulf War my nephews’ and nieces’. As the great-granddaughter, daughter, and sister of soldiers and an airman, I was taught in my home to honor those who served, and it was a lesson that was repeated from every stage, podium, or pulpit.

Of course outside of the AIDS/HIV ravaged community, no one was advocating that we care about those fighting or suffering the losses in the war that was AIDS. In that way, AIDS more accurately depicted the reality I had come to understand about our military veterans as I grew older. Everybody says support our troops and puts it on magnets or bumper stickers. There are parades and speeches and even a day, today, created to recognize veterans.

In truth, we seem to deal much better with a different holiday–Memorial Day. We honor the dead and comfort their survivors. We lay wreaths and set flags on the graves of the lost. It’s uncomplicated for the larger community (though not so much for those who actually knew and loved the lost). Our throats close up and our eyes well with tears when we see those flag-draped coffins or hear the 21-Gun Salute.

In contrast, for me, for decades, the speeches on Veterans Day ring hollow because we don’t actually care for at least one segment of our veterans as we should–those who have seen battle or served in wartime or who have been trained to serve in wartime. The cost to the mental and physical health of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines is staggering. That isn’t to say there aren’t people trying–there are many groups of veterans who continue to serve each other. There are medical professionals and volunteers and families all engaged in a new war to save those who have seen and done things the rest of us never will. But the larger community, the nation as a whole, filters out the grim reality of the statistics of the costs of war and military service to those at home: drug use, alcoholism, domestic violence, unemployment, trauma, behavioral issues, and suicide.

Yesterday I read a Twitter thread that resonated with me in so many ways. I’m putting it here so I can go back to it. I hope it makes everyone who reads it uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable. I wish I thought it would change things. But we still glorify battle (how many video/computer games exist that do just that, how many military-style weapons are in the homes of people who have no military training) and avert our eyes from or refuse even our compassion to those for whom such training was not a game, not a hobby. It begins with compassion. The national dialogue on AIDS changed because compassionate people outside the battle began to speak to their friends and families, even if it made them uncomfortable. But it only begins with compassion. After compassion must come awareness, education, and action.

I could extrapolate this to society’s other ills that culminate in atrocity (poverty, racism, sexism, for example). But today is for veterans. If we are going to train killers, then we need to provide a supportive care system to retrain them. Our healthcare system, our national discourse, and our efforts as individuals need to stop glorifying war even if we recognize it as a final necessity–my father did what he thought was right, and I believe he was right, too–and deal intelligently with its consequences.

Thread Reader is happy to present an unrolled Twitter story by @cmclymer

1/ I have some things to say about the Texas shooting. It’s gonna piss some people off, and that’s too bad. It needs to be said. (thread) 2/ I served in the Army. I was trained as an infantryman. A grunt. That’s about as nuts-and-bolts as it gets in

A day can be a lot of things

May 4 is Star Wars Day. Silly!

It’s also The Rhonda’s birthday (to be celebrated at a later date with cake). Fun!

In the neither silly nor fun category, it’s also the day our friend Jeff died in 1995. With resolution, I actually brought the Jeff bin in from the carport to begin purging it. And I did get a full trash bag of stuff to throw away. But I’m nowhere near done and my resolution is fading.

through the years

In the years after Steve died in 1992, I always took a cake to work on his birthday. Sometimes Lynne made the cake, sometimes I did. After I didn’t work there anymore, I still made him a birthday cake, and there have been many different friends who’ve shared his birthday with us, first at The Compound and now at Houndstooth Hall. This year Steve’s birthday fell on Friday–usually Craft Night–but The Brides are in Austin for softball, and Tim is housesitting. So it was only Tom, Debby, Lynne, and me, a nice gathering to celebrate Steve’s life. As happened long ago, Lynne was nice enough to decorate the cake I’d baked. Steve and I met through the bookstore where we were both managers, so I used the book cake pan and the usual Winnie the Pooh characters with a bookish theme. Lynne did a great job–and we all did a stellar job of eating it!

Later, it was a breezy night so we lit tiki torches with some mosquito repellant and enjoyed conversation on the patio. Tim’s dogs stayed inside to keep company with his little foster dog Leo, who’s still recovering from pneumonia. The rest of the pack, along with Lynne’s, wore themselves out playing in the yard. We like to pretend we moved here for the dogs to enjoy a big yard. But honestly…

A Fragile Circle

Sunday I baked the little clay print that was pressed from Margot’s paw. I know I’ll paint it eventually. Yesterday, Tom picked up her ashes, and the card that came with them from Little Friends Pet Memorial had these words from “The Once Again Prince,” by Irving Townsend, from Separate Lifetimes:

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breeched. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan…

Because it’s World AIDS Day, I can’t help but think of the other fragile circles that were formed among those of us who were friends and caregivers of those with HIV and lost to AIDS. Though society may place different values on who we love, our hearts know no such boundaries. We only love. When we lose who we love, our grief likewise knows no boundaries. We only mourn.

I have infinite happy memories of my friends Steve, Jeff, John, Tim, and Pete, but I still miss them, and I’d rather they be here, healthy and alive. Each of them would have loved Margot and mourned her loss with me. But they and my father were early teachers of a truth: I’d rather hurt inside the fragile circle than live outside it and never know what it is to love.

Today, Giving Tuesday, Tom and I contributed to my fundraising campaign for Rescued Pets Movement in our friends’ memory. I’m going to send out a mass email–one of my least favorite things to do–to encourage others to contribute, as well. When my friends were sick and dying against a backdrop of national indifference, I saw again and again what an impact even the smallest act from one compassionate person could have. I also saw the strength my friends drew from their companion animals, who offered love without judgment.

To support an organization that has saved the lives of over ten thousand dogs and cats in two years, giving those animals a chance to be inside the fragile circle with their adopters–I know my lost friends would support a movement that brings more healing and love to our world.

The campaign continues until January 7, 2016 at 1:59:59pm ET , but if RPM raises the most between 12am ET and 11:59:59pm ET today, December 1, they’ll get a $25,000 donation to their cause. You can donate any amount at all to my fundraiser, and if you wish, you can even say in whose memory or honor you’re donating from your own fragile circle.

Thank you.

World AIDS Day 2014

World AIDS Day. December 1.The other day when I was clearing out some boxes from the attic in preparation for our move, I found something I didn’t even remember we had. It’s a pack that was given to Tom to keep personal items in when he was volunteering at the NAMES display in Washington, D.C., in 1996. By that time, we’d lost our friends Steve R and Jeff to AIDS-related illnesses. Within a year, we would also lose John and Tim R.

Pete Martinez, who co-founded the Houston AIDS Quilt NAMES Project in 1988 and was the workshop manager, was part of those days in Washington, where our friend Amy volunteered alongside Tom and me, and made them some of the most memorable of our lives. Pete died in 2001.

We will never forget those lost, and World AIDS Day is one day when the entire community of AIDS and HIV activists, caregivers, and surviving friends and families can join together in remembering them and how far we’ve come since the early days of the pandemic. As well as being a day of remembrance, it’s an opportunity to educate and advocate, and clicking on the above link can provide a lot of good information.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation. That is the hope. That is what we all continue to strive for and the way we look forward. But we will always look back, too, and honor those who inspired science, medicine, government, religion, and society to move toward more tolerant, more compassionate, and more vocal reactions to a health crisis that robbed the world of too much.

I will never forget you, my friends. Thank you for changing my life.

Button Sunday

Happy Pride weekend to those celebrating it across the country. I walked to Houston’s Pride parade last night. Though there’d been rain during the day and I feared the humidity might kill me, there was actually a breeze blowing so it was almost pleasant. I don’t know how we used to endure the heat during midday parades.

Though I haven’t gone to the parade for the last couple of years mostly because of the heat, this year I was more motivated. Tim made me aware that designer Mondo Guerra, “Project Runway” veteran, was the parade’s celebrity grand marshal. As much as I enjoyed Mondo’s creations on PR, I most admire him for his HIV/AIDS awareness advocacy.

I was able to get a good couple of photos. In addition to his bold designs and activism, Mondo (in the red slacks) has quite a collection of eyeglasses. Last night’s frames sparkled.