Today is World AIDS Day. We’ve come a long way in our society, reducing fear and stigma, advancements in medicine, and not only life expectancy but also quality of life for those suffering has improved drastically. Yet, there is still so much more that needs to be done – and the only way to do that is to raise awareness, and to share the stories of those still living with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis.
I had never directly known someone affected by HIV or AIDS until I was twenty. My life, for the most part, has been sheltered. I’ve written about my privilege before – I grew up in New York City and went to the U.N. school, both very rich and wonderful experiences. Yet, I will say in some ways I was sheltered. During my third year at college I was approached by the head of our theatre department, and asked to research and write an interview based play about our local AIDS Service Organisation, The Alliance For Living. I immediately said yes.
Telling my story is my way of helping people, or inspiring people to do something. Because it’s important.
In the span of a few weeks I went from knowing no one with HIV/AIDS to knowing a dozen or more. They were so much more than their diagnosis – they were mothers, fathers, veterans, firefighters, grandmothers, ex addicts, husbands, wives, sisters, chefs… and yet, their lives had been defined by this illness.
Then I thought ‘you know what, Carla, you came a long way. This is a small thing to a giant’.
Throughout my research, in interviewing the people who used and worked at AFL, I grew to understand the human side of the disease – the way it worms itself between friends, family, lovers. I saw the tears and the smiles and the triumphs and the scares — each moment a dot on their timeline. But what was more incredible was that these strangers entrusted me with their stories.
After I got diagnosed, when people used to ask me about it, I used to tell them I had cancer. I didn’t want to come out and say that I had the big disease with the little letters.
Perhaps if we all listened more to the tales of those around us, we would become more understanding. Listening is as powerful of a tool as speaking.
When I finished the play, at the end of my senior year, I directed it as a staged reading in the chapel on my campus and I invited the people who I had interviewed. At the end, one woman came up to my and took my hands and just said, softly but firmly, ‘thank you.’
I am just a drop in the ocean of things that need to be done, could be done, about HIV/AIDS. And I did my part in my own very personal way – through writing. In order to be part of raising awareness, you don’t have to join a picket line or handcuff yourself to a fence. You can wear a red ribbon – you can talk to someone, you can listen, you can write, read, sing, dance… Part of raising awareness is a culmination of voices so loud, in so many ways, that they cannot be ignored. It is a celebration of life.