I sometimes find myself surrounded by friends and acquaintances who voice strong personal beliefs pertaining to their AIDS diagnosis.
Many of these men and women firmly believe that there will never be enough medical progress to save them in time, or that there will never be a cure. Others ride the crest of optimism and hope.
Finding my own optimism being challenged over and over again, I have come to the conclusion that some people are naturally pessimistic in life and that AIDS has given them a reason to act out. I feel dumped on a lot. And my carefully constructed beliefs, hopes and faith in myself and humanity are exhaustively put to the test.
I don't blame these pessimistic individuals, for many of them have had lives -- before and after AIDS -- that could explain their fatalistic outlook on life. But I do wish they would think before they speak, choosing their words carefully so as not to upset the fragile balance of hope so many others have chosen to get them through this.
As for me, I thrive on challenge. Listening and engaging these folks who now have a convenient excuse to put an end to their anxieties and suffering in this life (a position that has every right to be expressed without anyone passing judgment) only strengthens my resolve to be optimistic, especially since I am not the only person upon whom my feelings impact. It is far too painful for me to watch a friend make the decision to give up. You can actually see the spiritual and physical deterioration with every conversation and meeting.
Of course I am not immune to thoughts of hopelessness. Having lived through two bouts of MAI, severe edema of the legs, and constant chemotherapy treatment for KS that seems determined to permanently scar my hard-won physical attractiveness and go on to kill me, seems enough reason to "check out" before the pain gets too unbearable.
This is not a venereal disease I choose to dignify by adding my name to the death list! No, if I must give up my life, let it be at the the ripe old age of 80 or 90. There are far too many wonderful experiences, miracles to happen, and people to love in this life. And there are far too many stories of courage and valour and hope to convey to so many as an integral part of this human existence.
Now, there are very real and valid reasons to express one's pessimism: the capitalism that permeates research and drug development; religious resolve to brand AIDS as God's vengeance; and the general atmosphere in which AIDS made itself known back in the 1980s and currently. But there is a difference between channeling one's anger and pessimism at the rightfully deserved targets that impede progress and strip us of our dignity, our dollars and our hope, and just giving up. A balance must be found for our own well-being and survival; somewhere between political activism and the hopefulness that is crucial for our daily health and long-term survival.
This very human and vulnerable existence is always caught in the crosswinds of hope and despair, pessimism and optimism, with or without AIDS. It's your choice which you choose to live by.
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 January 1997 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.