Did you ever stop to think what your life would (or will) look like when -- miracle of miracles -- a cure is perfected, and you know that you will have become a long-term survivor? Wow, what a concept! After so many long years of balancing hope for a healthy future and preparing for death -- all at the same time -- you could get to feeling really twisted.
I mean, let's face it: for many of us, our lives have not been easier than that of our parents; our standard of living has not significantly improved; we were not expecting AIDS to mess up our sexualities, our highs, our lives. None of us were. But then again, we must admit that our parents' generation had to deal with polio.
No matter what socioeconomic background (successful or failed career) any HIV-inflicted individual hails from, AIDS has altered OUR lives and the lives of our loved ones.
I find myself asking the following personal questions: What would I do? How would I reconstruct my life? What would I look like? How would I have changed? As much of a yo-yo as I sometimes feel myself to be, both physically and emotionally, I'm delighted to be having this inner dialogue and giving it voice. To me, it signifies hopeful feelings and empowerment.
Think of it: a second chance at life, where opportunity is once again available; a time when you can exercise more control over your physical and psychological life again. And think how far each of our very individual communities has evolved (or not), and our place in it. How would we participate in our own lives?
"Your Mission -- should you choose to accept it . . ." is not impossible, but rather a challenge to be wonderfully creative and permissive with yourself.
Would we want to reclaim our former blissful ignorance or innocence? We can better appreciate the value of our lives and the lives of others on this journey.
I have given a lot of thought as to what life meant to me before AIDS and what it means to me now. Living my life as I fantasized it, and living the reality of it, was full of dangerous risk. That meant confronting my strong fear of, and intimidation by, people. It meant unbridled dreams, fantasy, hope, testosterone, idealism, and naiveté: a place from which my spirit came. I would take on risks and challenges, no matter how lofty or difficult. I would shoot for the moon and stars. I've always believed that anything is possible in this life, and miracles and luck happen every day.
The glimmers of success and growth, tinged with excitement, reinforced my quest to live life to the fullest. I meant fun, competition, and winning. Breaking out of my mold. I had a lifetime to spend, like currency . . . a lifetime of discovery and enrichment. I experienced passions and vitality, the fears and dangers of an evolving sexuality. I expanded my sexual limits and attitude. There was plenty of risky permission to play outside the realm of childhood teachings.I had an energy of spirit that says: "indestructible" and "yes, yes, yes." I had a full lifetime ahead of me.
Now, with my experience of dealing with my AIDS diagnosis, my senses are filled with lightness and darkness combined as one. Sometimes I can't tell which is which. I'm in a perpetual state of not knowing; but who knows anything more? No one knows! I'm still alive with vulnerability and strength. And there's still plenty of the risk that seems all life-important.
Still, being "dangerous" looks necessary for health and life; the pursuit of life is full of fear, yet hope for a true and healthy reconciliation of mind, body and spirit never dies. I am dealing with levels of vulnerability as they come up. And I get angry with the disruption AIDS has caused me. But I also appreciate the cloud it created: two decades of political and religious trauma for every man, woman and child's life. The disruption seems of cosmic proportions.
Blissful ignorance, healthy denial? No, I am careful, and my eyes are open. My heart is open, too. My circuits still hum, now more than ever.
|Two steps forward -- one step back.
One step forward -- three steps back.
One step, two step, three step, four.
Who knows? Who knows? Who knows?
Do I have hope for my future? You bet I do -- a new hope for the future! And, yes, there are plenty of question marks surrounding me from day to day. I feel myself being pulled in opposite directions, as if to say: The sky's the limit!/The sky's falling!/The sky is . . . The sky . . . is beautiful.
So listen to me, you children of a greater god, however you like your own particular cocktail, get going and have some fun with these thoughts; get on with it; get on with your lives. "Well, Did You Ever? . . . What a swell party this is!"
I guess I'd better be looking to my future, too.
Joe Tonti is a musical-comedy entertainer, night club performer, personal fitness instructor and trainer, AIDS volunteer and Body Positive facilitator. He is a survivor and a devotee of life.
Back to the October 1996 issue of Body Positive magazine.