Posted by: jevcat | May 17, 2010

AIDS Walk New York 2010

This Sunday was the 25th anniversary New York AIDS Walk – its silver anniversary – and, as I have for at least a decade, I was one of the walkers.

In a way, it’s an odd thing to participate in the AIDS Walk, a combination of memorial  and celebration, sorrow and hope.  Certainly, when the Walk started, there was almost a defiance about it:  there was so little that could be done then.  There were terrible years when so many of us lost so many people dear to us:  talented people, dedicated people, loving – and much-loved – people, people the world needed but no longer had. 

As someone whose History major had concentrated on medieval history, I found myself thinking a lot about the Black Death, when between a quarter and third of Europe died.  There were times my parish church, located in Greenwich Village and with a substantial proportion of the congregation gay, saw more than a funeral a week.  It was hard, sometimes, not to peer surreptitiously at friends, watching for the dreaded appearance of weight loss or skin lesions, wondering who would be next, hard to watch loved ones vanishing painfully in front of one’s eyes, hard to have hope.  I remember one friend, after yet another funeral, saying that for self-preservation she had begun to limit herself to going only to funerals of people who had been close friends, and wondering how much longer she would be able, emotionally, to continue even that.

In the face of despair, ostracism, fear, the first AIDS Walks were acts of defiant hope, a way to assuage the feeling of helplessness.  Even in the wake of anti-viral miracles, they still are.  The yearly losses are fewer, but they haven’t stopped.  A group of walkers who travelled over from Staten Island with me this year all had t-shirts with a matching, hand-airbrushed picture and “AIDS Walk 2010” emblazoned on front but more individual messages on back.  One that said simply, “I love you, Dad” brought me momentarily to tears. 

Most years, I walk with a friend who lost her brother to AIDS and her husband.  While we walk, we talk, catch up.  We’ve known each other since high school but no longer get to see each other often.  Making the AIDS Walk together is a way to stay in touch with each other as well as those we have lost.   Each year’s walk is different – and not just because of variations in the weather or the route.  Our lives change, too.  This year her husband is in the midst of a long period of unemployment, she is under-employed, and I’m a little of both:  unemployed but having some freelance work.  They may lose their house, I’m wondering how much longer my Beloved and I can hold on to our rental apartment.

So the talk wasn’t as light-hearted as it sometimes is.  We unloaded fears and pain, we offered each other encouragement, we expressed hope and determination to struggle on, and we saw we were not alone.  And whatever else was going on in our lives, we knew that by our walking, and the money given by those sponsoring us, we were contributing to something larger than ourselves, something that, down the road, might help make the world a better place, might make the losses less for someone else.

We chugged up and down hills, racking up the miles, past glimmering water, past volunteers cheering us on.  I saw some folks I know from church.  Sunlight scattered through the leafy green canopy that was over us much of the way, breezes cooled us, other folks walked beside us, talking, singing, chanting, remembering, laughing.  And we laughed, too, in spite of everything.

The traditional Christian burial liturgy tells us “in the midst of life we are in death.”  But we know that, don’t we?  It’s all around us.  Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is also true that in the midst of death, we are in life.


  1. You keep breaking my heart. Hard times, indeed. I wish we could all live together and take care of each other. Thanks for (literally) walking your talk.

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