Chapter 32: AIDS
I met Don at Café Koine at DTS. He wore his leather jacket, ripped pants with the chain connecting his jeans to his wallet and his biker boots. He was definitely the most biker looking guy at my Christian grad school.
Don asked if he could buy me a cup of coffee and I took him up on it. Don always bought my coffee. That was one of the things I always loved about Don. Generosity resided deep within him. I appreciated that.
“Well, how’s things with Chris?” Don asked flipping the chair around and sitting down as if he were a junior in high school looking cool.
“Busy, I have some sermon prep to do, and just a lot of Greek, how are things with you?” I asked.
“Today is a hard day. My former lover Dan died 18 years ago today.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“You know I woke up thinking about what you were saying about the gay community. My life, your life, McGregor’s life—Scott Michael’s life. Why are ya’ll intertwined with me, as a common denominator?”
“I think we would all say God was the common denominator,” I said.
“But why? Ya’ll are pretty much straight sexually.”
“It’s a God thing.”
“You told me a request for prayer in your Monday study group was for a contact in the gay community, correct?” Don asked. I nodded yes. He continued, “You said I was the answer to that prayer. That is unbelievable to me. You all three, who I consider really cool, and somewhat over stimulated—each have your own personality and lives, all around the same age, all different expectations in life, but all following the same teachings of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, until several weeks ago, I didn’t have anything in common with any of you. My life is removed geographically and socially from yours. I’m a gay man and have been an active part of my community for 30 plus years.”
I listened to Don wondering where this was coming from and where he was going. I didn’t know what to expect yet from Don. I had no idea what God had in store, I just assumed the Lord might use us to bring hope to the Gay community and redeem that which sin has marred.
“Chris,” Don continued. “I have seen over 400 of the most beautiful gifted, loving men die of a wretched disease. Ninety percent of my very closest friends died. That’s almost everyone I knew. Think about that. Think about going out with friends for coffee and all of a sudden, they aren’t there. You’re alone. Think of going to church and not seeing anyone you know, maybe a familiar face, but no one you know personally or are close to. Think about walking across the campus and not passing a friend. None of the people you dated or wanted to go out with, none of the people your friends dated—everyone dead.
“That’s tough. I’m so sorry, Don,” I paused and tried to gather my own thoughts, but nothing collaborated. I had lost men in Iraq, but I hadn’t known them for years and years. Yes they were my brothers and I cried at memorial after memorial. It was weird not seeing certain guys around, but I lost six. Don lost four hundred.
Don looked into his hands and back at me and said, “Empty apartments, or someone else living at the places you always hung out. Everyone you used to be with at Thanksgiving are all gone. Your friends don’t exist—all the numbers in your cell phone are no longer valid. Think about having no one to go to the movies with. Think about having no one to go to coffee with. There are only people fifteen years older or fifteen years younger—guys you have very little in common with. In issues of pop culture, politics, general life issues, you are all alone.”
“What do you do with that pain, Don? How have you coped?”
“I’ve cried, I’ve been mad, angry, all the stages of grief, dozens of times, I’ve made quilts for the AIDS project in memory of my closest friends. How do you cope? I’ve never put this into words until now, Chris. I’ve learned to cope. This is a light version of AIDS, and its effects, very light and very edited. This is what the guys, my age, which are left, have gone through. We can’t talk well about it, the loss is too great, too emotional, so much pain.”
“I’m sorry, Don. I don’t know what to say.”
“I know, I guess the reason I brought this up is if there’s a way to heal the inner pain, maybe there’s a reason for all of us to know each other. You are so confident in your hope. You seem to have some much peace. I want more of that.”
We sat in silence for a moment and then I asked him, “Do you ever wonder why you have survived having AIDS?”
“Well, Chris, I thought I was going to die. My lover saved me. For almost the entire 90s he would come to the hospital and check on me. He worked to pay for my bills. He was by my side whenever I needed him. He was so good to me—still is.”
When Don talked about his lover, his face shone. It was very sweet in a way. If this had been a heterosexual relationship, it would be a romance novel that any Christian would read. But, it couldn’t be, because his relationship was—well—sinful. I did start to see Don’s incredible connection with his partner. It would take more convincing than a Bible verse and a couple Christians to convince him that the love his partner gives him is wrong.
Or was it? I mean here’s a guy who knows what it is to be dependent on someone else. Don’s life was given to him by his lover. Jesus saved his soul, but in the month or so of time Don had been a Christian his lover continued to be just that, while Don was on an emotional roller coaster. To suggest that the very thing that gives Don stability is wrong, is what drove him to feel so angry and betrayed.
I want to marry a woman like Don’s lover—Not the man part—c’mon that’s just creepy. I want to marry a woman who would stand by me no matter what and show me unconditional love and would nurse me to health, would care for me, would make sure that I had food and took care of all my bills.
It sounds a lot like the Good Samaritan.
It’s the story where an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"What is written in the Law?" Jesus replied. "How do you read it?"
He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Then in reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
The Priest was the guy that was supposed to have mercy. But he didn’t. He did have an excuse though. If you’re not real familiar with Bible stories, you may not realize that a Priest could not perform his priestly duties for a period of time if he touched a dead man. There could be a social disdain for that priest, if he had to be cleansed. The same is true for the Levite whose role it was to work in the temple and assist the priest. If he touched a dead man, then he would be ostracized for a time and there would be no honor in it.
The Jews hated the Samaritans on par with how the Jews felt about Nazis. They were idolaters and although they may have recognized the God of the Jews, they recognized other gods as well. To receive help from a Samaritan would be unthought-of or unheard of, primarily because there was just no interaction between the two subcultures. Yet it is the Samaritan who nurses that Jew back to health.
Now, I don’t care who you are, if someone nurses you to health, you will be grateful. What if a Christian had come in and shown Don the same amount of loyalty, unconditional love, acceptance, and met his physical needs instead of his lover? I couldn’t help but think of that time when the kids from CFNI had taken Don in. What if they had taken him in and given him a place to stay and maybe a job? Would it be a lot easier for him to forsake being gay?
Jesus, in this instance, told his hearers that they needed to forsake ritual for the sake of men’s lives. Again, I’m not saying that orthodox believers can condone their behavior, but I think the church missed out on an opportunity to gain a hearing by leaving the AIDS victims to receive in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.