Light A Candle

My address at the AIDS Outreach Candlelight Vigil 2012:

You may have heard the saying, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”

For more than 30 years we have been struggling to support people with HIV. We have struggled with shame, anger, deep grief and injustice.

We have lost many good men, women and children.

Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. Friends.

It was easy back then to just curse the darkness- blame it for not being light.

But there were people who refused to do that.

They raised their voices, they publicly shared their grief, their outrage, their compassion.

They refused to sit helplessly in the dark- they searched for light. And because they found it, we have come a long way from the darkness of 30 years ago.

In some ways, the story of AIDS is something of a human triumph.

In moving from shame to dignity, people began to live longer with medication breakthroughs. People acted out of love, not fear.

People lit candles.

We are just learning that treatment is prevention- HIV+ people on medication are much less likely to pass on the virus.

That means getting everyone at risk tested. And if they are positive, to get them on meds as soon as possible. If we did this, we could stem the tide.

But we know the people most at risk are not being tested. We also know why: Denial, fear and shame are holding that testing room door shut. Cursing the darkness rises once again.

It’s time once again to search for candles to light.

I know we have a difficult job to do. We have to push testing without stigmatizing those infected. We have to ask people to care for their health- and the health of their community, without creating a too-rosy picture of life with HIV.

How do you say “Don’t get HIV. But, if you do get it, it’s not the disaster your worst fears whisper to you”?

It’s hard. But we believe we’re making progress.

Because the most important thing we have learned in 30 years is compassion. It’s the common denominator in all that we do.

It’s what we bring tonight to remember the loved ones we have lost to HIV- what we use to dignify their memory.

I believe that we are witnessing the beginnings of the triumph of compassion over the fear and stigma and shame and ignorance of our past. We are witnessing the beginnings of the inevitable triumph of light over darkness- but only if everyone lights that candle….

People at risk are people- they are worthy of dignity, compassion and respect.

People with disease are still people- they are worthy of dignity, compassion and respect. 

It’s what I believe. I also think it’s what you believe- because you’re here.

“It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

As a symbol of that optimism, tonight we light candles.

We represent our hope, our loss, our pain, our shame, our dignity and our resolve with the light of some flickering candles.

Because we refuse to sit in darkness.

Because dignity is worthy of light.

World AIDS Day Candlelight Vigil

(click for link to Facebook Event page)

blessing

To balance the madness of the world of late, I offer you a poem by one of the great spiritual writers and thinkers of our time.
Because we need it.

Beannacht
(“Blessing”)

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

~ John O’Donohue ~

Sellin’ The Estate

It’s been quite the process.

I’ve dealt with grief, loss, funeral planning, obituary writing, eulogy delivering and coming back to a (mostly) empty house and working to return to normal life while settling THE ESTATE (it feels like that in my mind)- whatever that is. Normal life, I mean.

I’ve sent boxes and boxes of material to the Butte Public Archives, explored all the nooks and crannies of this enormous old house, hired an excellent appraisal service, had a lot of great help from Ken and my friends, and lived with the anxiety that having price tags on everything in the house entails.

But now it’s time.

We’re having the estate sale next weekend, Sept 24-26th from 8am to 3pm daily. Click here for the flyer and a preview….

I think I’m ready to let go of all of this stuff- and it’s considerable. But I’m not going to watch the process, I don’t think I could stand it, so I’ll be in Billings helping the Yellowstone Aids Project with their Fall Retreat.

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes
to let it go, to let it go.
~ Mary Oliver

So Many Thoughts

…in the aftermath of grief (does it ever really end?). I often find myself looking blankly for indeterminate lengths of time, thinking about things that are no longer relevant- just for the pleasure of the memory, and trying very hard to not be a drag… but honestly, I feel pretty okay. Just more sad than usual. And that’s temporary, too.

For sharing:

Wisdom is knowing I am nothing,

Love is knowing I am everything,

And in between the two

my life moves.

~Nisargadatta Maharaj