When Wise Before Their Time was first published in 1992, it served two purposes – to educate people on what life was like for the heartbreakingly large number of young people (and god, they were young) who were living with HIV and AIDS around the world, to try and beat the stigma and combat false information; and to directly speak to people who had the disease and who were feeling its often isolating and alienating consequences. I was born in 1995 and therefore missed out on a majority the horrors of the pandemic, but as Ann Richardson states in the foreword, my generation and the ones that come after it, are the reason why this book needs to be republished – so that people do not forget the horrors and fears of the past and, in some places in the world, the present; that we remain educated and continue to stand in solidarity with people who are HIV-positive and those living with AIDS.
I suppose I find some comfort in how much has changed in just my lifetime, a mere twenty years although to some it must feel like a millennia – HIV screenings have become commonplace with pre- and post-exposure drugs becoming far more readily available; the creation of needle exchange programmes in many countries around the world; and, more people than ever are engaged in an open and honest discussion about all aspects of the disease. Also, at least in my part of the world, living with HIV/AIDS is no longer seen as a negative on someone’s character and it is no longer solely talked about in hushed voices behind closed doors, moving into classrooms, university campuses and many other social arenas.
And I think that we have every person involved in the creation of this book to thank for a small part of that being made possible.
Each one of the voices in Wise Before Their Time is powerful and sobering. They show the everyday realities of living with a disease that people, including doctors as their tales repeatedly show, knew virtually nothing about. They talk honestly and incredibly openly about all aspects of the experience of living with HIV/AIDS – from how they got their diagnosis, to confront their own mortality, to telling friends and family members, to their hopes for the future. Expanding on the latter, there is a definite sense of hope that is forges the undercurrent for the entirety of the interviews as, no matter how long the person had had the disease or what part of the world they lived in, they refused to give up, every single one of them. And that is surely, the true definition of inspiring.