Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson. There was a time when people paid more attention to philosophers than economists. People worshiped the spirit, not the flesh. People placed more value on their souls than their bank accounts.
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. -- Buddha. Everything in the physical world began as a thought. There is nothing more powerful than thought.
Although we seldom acknowledge their originators, we are a nation that likes a good quotation, and loves a great one. I love to hear them, remember them, read them, share them, and come up with one or two on my own. A good quote sounds profound. It's memorable. It makes me memorable, if not profound. Quotes have impact. They evoke emotion. They stimulate me intellectually. They challenge me to prove them or disprove them. Often, they have little to do with the truth -- though sometimes, they sum it up. They are often misconstrued -- used out of context, excerpted from the original written or verbal source, obliterating the intention of the author.
A popular and misused twentieth century favorite, "Money is the route of all evil," excerpted from "The love of money is the root of all evil," changes entirely when used in its entirety. Politicians are notorious for using partial quotes, especially at election time. In the sixties during the Vietnam war, the Republican party platform, "Our country right or wrong," was actually intended to mean just the opposite - "our country right or wrong, when it is right we will defend it and when it is wrong we will strive to make it right." Like anything used out of context, its consequences can be, at the very least, misleading; at worst, devastating.
Speaking of devastating . . . remember "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit?" Two butchered bodies, an entire police department, a district attorney's office, millions of dollars, and rooms full of evidence; seven simple words had more impact than all of it. Words can heal. Words can harm. Words can change our lives.
Another saying with which I have become familiar is "Testing HIV-positive is not a death sentence." It isn't? Isn't it? What is death? The deterioration and ultimate demise of the flesh? Isn't an HIV-positive diagnosis an end to life as we once knew it? I don't know anyone who upon discovering that they are infected with the HIV virus ever returns to the life they knew prior to their diagnosis. I've never gone out on a date again not worrying about being rejected for my "illness." All the work I did on myself spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically, eradicated in a moment's time.
All the self-esteem I accumulated, all the time I invested broadening my mind, enlightening my spirit, dealing with my emotional baggage, developing my career, opening my heart, suddenly shattered by an invisible virus.
Once upon a time, my concerns were whether or not it was that hair cut, my bad temper, my impatience, my neediness, my control issues, or another lover that forced my prospective partner out the door. Now it is whether or not someone is willing to deal with an untimely death, incredible suffering, fear of infection, a restricted sex life, not creating children of their own, what others think -- the list is endless.
And yes, I can turn it around and say, "I wouldn't want to be with someone who can't deal with illness anyway." But is it fair to ask someone I love to give up so much? Is it even possible to put myself out there and expose myself to the risk of rejection?
People who deal with and triumph in the face of AIDS are extraordinary indeed. We can be very special partners. The sad truth is that there are many PWAs who will never know how wonderful it is to love and be loved, because the society in which we live hasn't made it safe enough to take that risk -- even for love. AIDS robs not only my flesh, but my heart as well. And AIDS isn't a death sentence? Life with out love . . . would you want to live in a world absent of love?
Like the best of friends, the best of quotes are intended to provide guidance, support, compassion, love, peace, joy, wisdom and inspiration. Like friends, words should be carefully chosen. Many of my favorite quotes, including the one I chose to close this column, was spoken by an extraordinary, ordinary, uncommon, common, person, who goes by no name: "Do not follow where a path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail." Two roads diverge in the woods and I chose . . . .
Back to the November 1996 issue of Body Positive magazine.