(Continued from Saturday . . . )
The Newsweek article I read in 1988 said that gay men who were HIV-positive or had full-blown AIDS had become the lepers of the twentieth century. Just as lepers had been forced beyond the walls of their towns in first-century Palestine because of the fear of contagion, so these men were being ostracized by society.
Of course, not only gay men had AIDS, other people as well—children, women, men—who were not gay were also suffering the ravages of the disease. But in 1988, it was known as the “gay disease” because nearly everyone thought that it had originated in the gay community and that the sexual practices of that community spread it among other gay men. (If I’m remembering correctly what I read back in the eighties and nineties, the former statement is false; the latter is true. Any of you who know differently, please let me know and I’d post a more accurate statement.)
The media used the words epidemic, pandemic, and plague when describing the spread of AIDS across the world. According to Newsweek, those who lived with it were the new outcasts. Who would want to touch them or kiss them or drink even a cup of water with them? They were unclean, as was said of the lepers in first-century Palestine when Yeshua walked its roads.
And what had he done when he encountered the leper, the outcast, the unclean—the dregs of a society that judged others and found them wanting?
He reached out to heal spirit and body. He comforted. He consoled.
I knew what Yeshua had done.
What could I do? What can one person ever do?
One person can help one. And then another. And another.
We start with one.
Out of my own experience of feeling as if I didn’t belong, I could reach out to these men—one by one.
And so I called the Roman Catholic diocese office in St. Paul. I knew that if anyone was doing anything for those with AIDS it would be the nuns and this was a way, possibly, to find those nuns. There was much I did not appreciate about Roman Catholicism, but who can deny the great work that nuns have done in our country and throughout the world?
A nun treating people injured in the Haiti earthquake.
They have fed the hungry, given sustenance to the impoverished, visited the imprisoned, sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked, buried the dead.
A nun on a motorbike in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They have taught worldwide; comforted the sick, the sorrowful, the afflicted; served others in every imaginable situation. Some, like Ita Ford, a Maryknoll nun in El Salvador, have been murdered for their efforts to help others.
Ita Ford, Maryknoll nun, murdered in El Salvador in 1980.
I ask again, “Who can doubt that the vast majority of Catholic nuns have reached out always to the oppressed and the outcasts of our society?” And although I was no longer a nun, I’d learned well from my mother and from the convent and from Yeshua that there is no greater calling then to reach out to others and to unite in our need.
It is then we discover not only who the other is, but also who we are. And it is only then that we discover our Oneness.
I cannot remember to whom I spoke at the office of social services. Somehow I got directed to a nun whose name was Joanne. She was in charge of helping those with AIDS who came weekly to St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center for treatment.
St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in St. Paul, Minnesota,
was renamed Regions Hospital in 1997.
Joanne interviewed me at length to assess my reasons for volunteering, my attitude toward gays, and my understanding of the extremely remote—nigh on impossible—likelihood of my being infected by AIDS.
I must have passed muster for she accepted me as a volunteer for the Tuesday AIDS clinic. Two other women and I would spend our day visiting with any patient who wanted to talk about this or that or these or those or life in general.
On Saturday I’ll share those days with you. For three years I volunteered and worked with Darlene and Mary, two of the most kind-hearted and interesting women I ever had the privilege to know. During that time I also became friends with several gay men, but I most remember Robert, Andrew, and Lon. I look forward to introducing them to you.
(Continued on Saturday . . . )
Housekeeping: Last Saturday, Inger posted a review of Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats and Their Humans on her blog. Her words brought tears to my eyes. If you’d like to read it, please click here.
Pictures from Wikipedia.