Jacques was an unfathomably vast tree of legal knowledge regarding HIV in the U.S. One of his many branches reached directly into TheBody.com, where he volunteered in our "Ask the Experts" forum on workplace and insurance issues since 2012. There, he answered hundreds of questions with empathy, energy and insight -- 928 questions, to be exact, including hundreds from HIV-positive people in immediate need of nuanced legal information and advice. Yet as this beautiful tribute from AIDS Project Los Angeles makes clear, Jacques' role in our forums represented just a small segment of the services he provided to the HIV community throughout a long (but not long enough) career.
In the most publicized news event on HIV in the last decade, Charlie Sheen took to the Today show to confirm the truth: He is living with HIV.
But with his individual revelation, a broader and ultimately more significant truth emerged: The realities of HIV today are drastically different from the dated concepts of the public imagination.
I slept poorly. I woke up feeling dizzy and didn't want to leave the house. I did anyway. I went to see the AIDS Quilt.
Not surprisingly, I have a Google Alert for "HIV" -- each day I receive an email with links to all headlines across the Web with the term "HIV" in them. For several days this past week my alert email was dominated by headlines regarding the same news story:
HIV-Positive College Student Secretly Filmed Sex Tapes With 32 People
About a month ago, a good friend of mine named Doug informed me that he'd be playing bass guitar in an upcoming Queen tribute concert alongside the guitarist Alex Skolnick of (kind of) famed '80s thrash metal band Testament. After frantically assaulting him with questions of how this was possible, what their setlist would be and when I'd "get to hang out with Alex," I set off to mark it down in my calendar, prepared to bulldoze whatever preexisting plans I may have had to make room for this once-in-a-lifetime event. This opportunity.* Sure enough, Dec. 1 was just a blank square, waiting to be filled.
Here at TheBody.com, we have a long-standing, awesome tradition, which is that we order lunch together as a team every Wednesday. (Don't be confused into thinking we eat together as a team; we're all cubicle-dwelling workaholics, so after some chatting and banter, we retreat to our desks to work while we eat, just like every article on living healthily while working in an office says you should never, ever do.) We're a small but tight-knit group -- we know one another's favorite TV shows and musicians, what we all did last weekend and where we're all planning to go for our Thanksgiving vacation days. So it's always surprising when one of us says something that gets nothing but blank looks in return. And when that happens, it's almost always caused by one thing: the generation gap.
Horror movies are a way for filmmakers to deal with that which forces humans into survival mode, and perhaps nothing is more visceral in terms of mass fear and hysteria than the HIV epidemic, especially in its early years. Horror movies are built around the idea of human mortality, and horror as a genre often looks at the lengths people go to in order to survive when motivated by fear. When faced with the possibility of death, people feel most alive, and the protagonists of horror movies are often spurred into action by a presence that wants to unleash them from the mortal coil.
Unfortunately, artists who create great music do not always enjoy the same longevity as their work. And no, I'm not just talking about today's musicians. Composers such as Mozart, Schubert and Chopin, whose pieces we've all heard time and time again (whether we know it or not), made early curtain calls fashionable long before the dawn of the 20th century. But then there's Elliott Carter, a composer who lived to the age of 103. So, in a universe where someone seems to have it out for musical genius, where there seems to be a cap to the vitality of musical creation, is Carter just an outlier? Can we really attribute his long life to random chance? Dumb luck? Can't be. While it's true that there are certain things we simply don't plan for, Carter's music provides us with advice that, I think, couldn't be clearer -- that, when remaining healthy is paramount, mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise.
I'm 30 years old, but writing this in autumn, I feel so much older than I did in the spring. I wrote a few months ago that my mother was sick. July saw her getting worse, and on the first day of August, she moved into Hospicare, a hospice facility in my hometown. She passed away in early September.
We're back from New Orleans and the U.S. Conference on AIDS! Back in mid-September, Mathew and I -- along with many other community members and TheBody.com colleagues -- thrived amidst the punishing heat and the mountains of fried meats, and reveled in the welcoming embrace of a regional HIV community that does a great deal of vital work in the face of profound resource constraints. Stay tuned for a spotlight series on the site that focuses on HIV/AIDS in the U.S. South, where we'll go more in depth into the topic, around the end of 2013 and early in 2014.