April 17, 1996
Suddenly joggers are in shorts rather than sweats. People are stopping to rest in the sun. Sexual feelings are heightened, and people joke about how this is the season when "a young person's fancy turns to a fancy young person." People are outdoors again, working in gardens, strolling through parks, enjoying the lengthening days. It feels as if life itself is renewed, as trees, flowers, and plants are reborn. The world appears to be healed of its winter death.
The sites and smells of spring always remind me of the happiest times of my youth: the high school spring musicals, the proms, the outdoor parties as the school year drew to a close. The sites and smells of spring still seem to offer great promise: that life is good, that hope is real, that good will happen, that God is still active and here.
The Easter message of new life becomes more vivid as God blesses the earth with rain and warmth. God blesses us with very real signs of resurrection and hope every spring. When living with HIV or AIDS, it becomes particularly important to recognize, acknowledge, and affirm these signs. The energy of spring can give us energy for healing and life with HIV and AIDS throughout the year.
Many of the significant events of my life with HIV have happened in the spring. I was diagnosed in the spring. I had a very different spring that year, even as the familiar signs of the season unfolded. I remember observing all these signs of life and thinking, "Life is going to go on with or without me." The whole world was being reborn. People were falling in love. Babies were being born. And I had been told I was dying.
I suppose I could have become more depressed about this contrast. There were moments when I felt defeated, left out, or left behind as I watched the world around me renew itself. But my Easter faith buoyed me, even if they said I was dying. (See Column #9: "The Hope of Easter") Through that faith, I was able to see and feel the healing quality of spring.
Springtime became a coping technique for me! I consciously used the energy of spring to lift my spirits when they drooped. I saw the new blooms and the fresh green grass as signs of hope in the face of death. Through the experience of spring that year, I experienced a healing of grief over my own life. Suddenly those new blossoms were brighter, the colors more vivid, the aroma more poignantly beautiful.
The next spring, 1985, was also a time of healing: the day after Easter, I began treatment with suramin, the first anti-viral drug tried against HIV. As April and May proceeded, I could feel the healing happening in my lymph glands, my skin, and my bone marrow. I intentionally tried to soak up the energy of spring: the world renewing itself, new life bursting forth, and renewed life blossoming in front of me. It became a parallel process to my own healing, my own rebirth into a new life with no more cancer. On May 30, my doctor called to tell me the lymphoma and Kaposi's Sarcoma were in complete remission. Never was there a more joyous, triumphant springtime in my life.
The next spring I was recovering from suramin's toxic side effects, (which prevented it from being used any further against HIV.) I was recovering from adrenal insufficiency, wasting, neuromuscular damage, peripheral neuropathy, and blindness. My hair had all fallen out. As I became impatient for progress that spring, I witnessed through God's springtime activity, that growth, healing, and renewal happen so slowly that we can barely see it. It's a challenge to actually see a plant grow! My healing seemed painfully slow, but I trusted that I was getting stronger and better, even if the increments were too small to observe.
As spring of 1986 proceeded, my hair began to grow in, curly! (It had been only slightly wavy before.) My sight returned. I began to regain my appetite. I started to gain weight. I went back to the gym and slowly built up my strength and endurance. I walked a few steps farther each time I took an evening stroll. My muscles healed, and my neuropathy faded away. All the time, I trusted that God was healing me just as God was healing the earth.
I don't understand how all the leaves can die and drop away each fall, and then grow back months later just as perfect as they were the previous year. But I trust that they will, even when winter seems to hang on with one more storm, one more blast of cold.
Similarly, I don't understand how God's healing power works. But I know that it does, and I trust it, even if it's so slow that I can't see it happening. God keeps renewing life, even after a diagnosis of some life-threatening illness. Springtime gives us visible evidence of God's most amazing grace. Perhaps it is easier to believe in this grace when we see such vivid evidence. It is certainly a great gift when we are overwhelmed with the fragile beauty of cherry blossoms, or the riotous petals of lush flower gardens.
It is helpful for those of us living with HIV or AIDS to hold these images, these smells, these feelings, deep inside our sense memories. The beauty of God's creation can bless us not just with the will to live, but with a model for healing into life. Remembering these pictures of springtime can help us bear with cold hospital corridors and painful procedures and treatments.
Right now, while spring is springing, let the renewal of life renew your life! Drink up the freshness of spring, and quench your thirst for healing. Let God's love warm your soul as the sun begins to warm our bodies. Take these images and feelings and hold them deep inside your heart. Allow these gifts from God to help you face your life with HIV or AIDS.
God keeps re-creating life. Easter doesn't end after church on that Sunday. Take that Easter faith, that sense of eternal spring, with you into each day of your life.