September 8, 2010
Beth was the most remarkable person I have ever met. I first heard of her in spring 1991 in an article in the Sunday section of the Marin Independent. At the time, I was living with my partner, Jim, in an apartment in Tiburon, California, on the edge of Richardson Bay with a view from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge. In the evening we could sit on our deck and admire the view of San Francisco while waves lapped against the beach beneath our feet. Life was good for Jim and me. We had satisfying work and a wonderful group of friends. Yet with all this, I remained angry that I had been infected with HIV.
I don't mean by anger an emotional response to an insult that was to plague me beginning in 1994 as a result of my developing HIV Associated Dementia, which I have written about in earlier blogs -- a soul-deep anger at the Universe that seemed to have violated its contract to treat me benevolently. Before my HIV diagnosis, I believed that we lived in the best of all possible worlds and that behind all the blessings of this world there was a loving and kind god. My HIV diagnosis in September 1984 was a deathblow to that belief system. I became very depressed, which in some ways is anger directed internally.
An HIV diagnosis in 1984 when I was diagnosed was a death sentence. In 1991 when I read about Beth in the Marin Independent, the local weekly gay newspaper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, had a four page spread in each issue that listed the names of those who had died of AIDS that week. Our doctors gave us no hope of treatment soon enough to save us.
In the Marin Independent article, Beth recalled that as her husband of forty years lay dying in 1985, he told her he had lied to her about having cancer. He said he was bisexual, that he had AIDS, and that likely so did she. At this news, Beth said she became very hurt and then very angry; but, nevertheless she felt she had an obligation to continue to tend her husband, who was blind from Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis and was suffering from a toxoplasmosis infection of the brain.
After her husband died and the flurry of activity surrounding his funeral was gone, Beth said she became furiously angry at her husband for deceiving and infecting her, at herself for allowing his deception, and at god for making a world where such deception and HIV infection could occur. Added to his anger was fear of the certain death that followed upon an HIV infection. This anger and fear grew to consume her and closed her world to everything but anger and fear.
By chance, she picked up a copy of the San Francisco Bay Guardian which contained an article about Dr. Jerry Jampolski and his Center for Attitudinal Healing in Tiburon, California, which had started a study and support group for people with HIV. The Center had for many years been involved in helping persons with life threatening illnesses let go of anger and fear, and find peace. Dr. Jampolski in the article said the first question we must ask ourselves was, "Is there another way of looking at the world that changes our experience of life?" Beth said that question was an epiphany that made her want to find a way out of the anger and fear that were her life. Beth called the Center the day she read the article and asked to join the HIV group.
One of the basic tenets of Attitudinal Healing is forgiveness of ourselves and others rather than judging. Another closely related tenet is to let go of the past and the future. As she discussed these tenets with the members of the group and began to apply them in her life, she learned to forgive her husband, herself and god. She also learned to live in the moment without fear of the future or anger at the past; and, perhaps, most importantly, she found a peaceful acceptance of the moment.
Her story shot through me like a thunderbolt. How, I wondered, could someone who had been so hurt by a loved one and god, learn not to be angry or fearful? Was there a better way as Dr. Jampolski asked? I realized in a flash of insight that since my diagnosis in 1984, I had been angry that I had HIV and fearful that I would most certainly die. I had let anger and fear control my experience of life. The week I read Beth's story in the Marin Independent, I attended my first session at the Center.
Life Is a River
ScotCharles was born in Mineral Wells, Texas. He has been HIV positive since September 1984, and received an AIDS diagnosis in April 2004. He graduated cum laude from Georgia State University in Atlanta, and got his MBA with honors at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He's also a certified public accountant and a member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. He's been married to his partner, Jim, for 30 years. ScotCharles' hobbies are gardening and water color painting. He and Jim have a sable tabby cat named Pickles who runs the house. ScotCharles is a retiree and regular poster to TheBody.com's Bulletin Boards.
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