Thanksgiving to World AIDS Day

Thank you. Thank you for acknowledging the power of a virus to ravage lives. Thank you for extending compassion to every human being, protec...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Compassion - No Strings Attached

It’s commendable that every broadcast, article or Facebook post spotted over the weeks since her March 23 death remembers Elizabeth Taylor’s outspoken AIDS activism alongside her lifelong celebrity and tabloid marriage record. That such a well-respected personality chose to defend those affected by this fatal virus long before it was trendy was admirable indeed.
"I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being — to prove that we are a human race, to prove that our love outweighs our need to hate, that our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame."   - Elizabeth Taylor, accepting a special Oscar for her AIDS advocacy in 1993
In that first decade since it was named, the fear of an AIDS diagnosis was so great that huge segments of the population were shunned or ignored. An actual AIDS diagnosis branded its victim as a deviant, outcast by family, friends, schools, jobs and churches, with barriers to medical, mental, emotional health, insurance and housing. It was during this period my brother took me on a long drive and told me he had AIDS.

Bret had tried hard for more than a year to keep his diagnosis a secret and was now asking my advice on whether or not to risk telling the rest of the family before his 12-18 month life expectancy time line ran out completely. Of what little I’ve allowed myself to remember of that day, one particular comment made clear the effect of AIDS stigma on my brother – “No red ribbons. Please, no red ribbons.” The AIDS red ribbon was intended as a symbol of compassionate solidarity to end AIDS yet Bret saw it as a scarlet letter – a label on which judgments were made and compassion withheld.

Love for my brother got me on a bike, compassion for the vulnerable keeps me riding it. This spring I’ll pedal another 1000 miles to call attention to those still vulnerable to AIDS, raising money for services filling the gaps left by fear and stigmatism and to keep the brightest minds in innovative research progressing toward effective prevention, sustainable treatments and a cure.

One can always choose how to act on their compassion but compassion itself must never be a choice.