Nearly thirty years ago, when HIV/AIDS was rampant, I became close friends with a young man diagnosed with the disease. He was very active in the AIDS world and was organising an international conference of people with HIV and AIDS, to be held in London.
These were the dark days when most people with HIV/AIDS were young (mostly gay men and drug dependent, but there were others, too) – and to be diagnosed was to be given a death sentence.
My friend told me that he had asked everyone attending the conference to send in ‘their story’ with their application.
I was immediately struck by the potentially fascinating nature of such stories and he agreed that I could compile them into a book, a task with which he would like to help. I subsequently arranged for two interviewers to come to the conference (held over five days) to talk with participants about their lives. We managed to interview over 20 attendees from all over the world
Wise Before their Time was the result of these two sorts of contributions, published initially by HarperCollins in 1992 and subsequently re-published by Glenmore Press in 2017 with a new introduction.
But why the title? Despite being young, the people we interviewed seemed wise beyond their years. Something happened in the course of their learning how to cope with the many physical manifestations of their disease, along with the huge stigma attached to it by everyone (including many doctors).
Much like very old people, they realised that they did not have long to live, but needed to live wisely and well. They readily separated the important from the unimportant aspects of life and became deep, impressive men and women.
I was very pleased when Sir Ian McKellen agreed to write a Foreword, in which he stated that these true stories were “as powerful as any great classic of fiction”.
The title emerged from my thinking about their situation and their qualities. It may not convey much to the potential readership (which makes it a poor title). but it was my way of honouring the wonderful people who contributed to the book. I was never able to follow them up (this was long before the days of email and mobile telephones), but wherever I tried to do so, they had died within a year or two.
My friend died six months before the book was published. He, too, was wise before his time.
This book is only of historical interest, as it does not describe the experiences of people with AIDS now. But it is immensely moving – indeed uplifting – and is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
Why not buy now and see for yourself?