Some days while walking in the Chariton Cemetery I pass the grave of the first Lucas Countyan to die of AIDS-related complications --- rather than a shame-related euphemism. It said so, right there in his obituary in the Chariton newspapers. Those of us who are of a certain age used to watch for that sort of thing.
Or I could drive into the country to the grave of a young man who died of AIDS a few years earlier. His obituary focused on how much he loved Jesus. He loved men, too, of course, but there was no possibility that would be acknowledged. But I heard it whispered about not long ago --- "He was, well, you know ...."
A couple of things remembered on World AIDS Day, yesterday, Dec. 1.
I spent the evening watching again two recent award-winning documentaries (available on Netflix) --- "We Were Here," a 2011 film about the AIDS crisis in San Francisco; and "How to Survive a Plague," set largely in New York City and focused on the work of ACT UP and TAG.
The former is poignant and gentler, focused through the words of survivors on how in the western epicenter of the crisis gay men and lesbians united to take care of their own --- others wouldn't. The latter, angrier and harsher and set in the eastern epicenter, is focused on gay men and women and their allies who united to force government agencies, researchers, drug companies and others to focus adequate resources on the search for a cure, at the least control --- an effort that continues.
Other things to remember --- Bizarre drives north to the Twin Cities for The Test, when it first became available rather than trusting Iowa neighbors; AIDS walks and candlelight vigils; those gut-wrenching and cold-sweat-inducing moments when it suddenly dawned --- now and then in the middle of the night --- that this friend or that acquaintance (or ex-lover) had AIDS and was going to die; how and why I learned to hate, yes hate, Christians (we've now reconciled --- a little, but not the point of trust).
The red paint on the little metal ribbon I used to wear all the time is chipped and worn --- it's been retired for several years.
But I can be preachy still sometimes about the continuing imperative for safe sex --- HIV can be controlled in most (but not all) instances, but there is no cure --- yet.
The current estimate is that roughly 650,000 Americans have died of AIDS-related causes since the epidemic began, that roughly 1.2 million currently live with HIV and that one in seven of those are unaware of it. And that's a mere drop in the bucket worldwide. Gay men and black people remain at the greatest risk.
I sometimes wonder what all of those bright and beautiful young people who have died of AIDS might have accomplished otherwise. Then wonder if the march toward equality and justice would have been as effective had not a plague forced LGBT people to learn better how to work together and reach out effectively to allies.
And then it's always mildly surprising still to be alive.