It was World AIDS Day at the beginning of the month of December. Indeed, I believe, it is AIDS Awareness Month for the whole of December.
Are you fed up with causes? Do you see the word ‘AIDS’ and think “Oh, no, not another blasted cause I am supposed to support.” You have enough things to do. You just don’t need anything more.
Well, stick around, it is more complicated than that.
World AIDS Day
World AIDS Day comes every year, even though AIDS is no longer a life-threatening disease if you have the medication. Of course, there are plenty of people in developing countries who can’t get the medication, so it remains a serious cause.
But don’t run away. Not just yet. This is not another plea for compassion.
Quite the reverse.
So Many Good Causes
Compassion fatigue is genuine and understandable. We all feel we are constantly being pressured to Do Something. There is so little we can do in any case – it just makes us feel guilty.
And perhaps you have your own favourite cause, be it helping needy children overseas or climate change or cancer. Perhaps you donate money on a regular basis, or volunteer, or both.
My Interest in AIDS
My own interest in AIDS stems from the fact that a good friend, then aged only 32, died from it a long time ago.
He was an AIDS activist and one of his last activities of note was to organise an international conference for people with AIDS and HIV. This was attended by some 500 men and women, all of whom were HIV positive.
Because of our friendship, he allowed me to interview some of the people attending the conference, and then put the results together into a book. I made him a co-author in honour of his contribution, although he died before the book was published.
The people interviewed were very young – mostly under 40. They were from all over the world – Mexico, Morocco, Uganda, Germany, Malaysia, to name a few as well as the US, Canada, and the UK. None were expected to live very long.
What they had to say was both honest and impressive. Nothing to do with being a ‘cause’ or feeling sorry for themselves. They saw themselves as ordinary people trying to work out what was the best way to live when you know you don’t have very long.
They told stories about their lives and relationships, both the very real challenges and, sometimes, joys. They expressed, on the whole, very positive attitudes and resilience. I felt I could learn a lot from them. Their stories are said by one reviewer after another to be ‘very powerful’. One commented that it makes the problems in your own life feel small.
I called the book Wise Before Their Time for a reason.
Yet it was a horrific situation and, all those I was able to trace had died within a year or two of the conference.
By all means, volunteer for the cause of your choice or give money to it. But that is not what I am talking about here.
We should think about people with AIDS – or, indeed, people in many other difficult situations – not because they are a worthy cause but because there is something we might learn from them. It’s not about giving – it is about receiving. They have much to say.
And I have learned a lot.
This was first published on Sixtyandme.com (see http://sixtyandme.com/world-aids-day-or-how-we-react-to-different-causes-in-our-60s/) but has been revised slightly here.