With current treatments and strategies, the likelihood in Australia of someone with HIV developing AIDS is more rare than ever before. But the onset of AIDS challenged and shook our culture. There was stigma, discrimination, fear, prejudice and hostility. That remains to varying degrees, but that challenge also gave rise to remarkable champions, outreach, acceptance, courage and compassion. These are the things to be nurtured and which must endure.
There’s an almost hidden cost of AIDS as the years go by, a cost to the fabric of Australia. It is difficult to fathom how that cost will play out for future generations. Those deaths mean there are new friendships we will now never have the chance to make, partners we will never meet and lasting gifts and contributions that will never be given. There are a growing number of young people who do not have the living memory of that epidemic and will never really know they are missing the presence in their life of someone who should be close to them – such as an uncle or aunt, a teacher or mentor, a future in-law, or perhaps a cousin.
A few weeks ago I heard something which struck a chord like no other – a timely homily on lament. I knew the word casually, but it was clear that lament in the context of my faith could and perhaps should be so much more than this. This was something I had never grasped (and still grasp only dimly).
I look back to the height of the AIDS epidemic with the perspective of almost three decades of living with HIV. I and so many others touched by those days have never given ourselves the chance to properly lament those terrible times, or the losses we still find today. And I am angry that those terrible times are still visited on so many other countries in the world. In so many other countries families and communities are still ripped apart as AIDS continues to take its toll just like it once did here, particularly on young adults. It is unjust.
My lament begins with the wrapping together of all that pain, loss, suffering, abandonment, confusion, anger and injustice; as well as that sense that the world is broken and things are bad. Wrapping it all together as a plea and an honest expression and then crying that out to God – especially in fellowship. It is significant and real, and this lament is needed. I am not expecting a resolution to these things or to fully understand them right now, only that God will come through in the end. That there is hope at the very end.
World AIDS Day is on December 1, the first week of Advent and an appropriate time for the special services and remembrances that take place around this time. All are invited to come together in fellowship and remember all of our losses, and to share and bear witness to this lament – knowing that there is hope and compassion in this broken and unjust world where AIDS has cast such a shadow and can still run rampant.
(Services are held throughout Sydney to commemorate World AIDS Day, generally in the week around December 1. A special liturgy and remembrance for World AIDS Day will be held at St Joseph’s Church, Newtown, on Friday November 27 at 8pm. All are welcome, regardless of creed, cultural background or sexual orientation.)