World Aids Day

This morning the blowing rain woke me up. The sun was so tired by the time it penetrated the clouds a dull nod of recognition was the best it could manage, and there was a steady tick of the dog's tail against the bed; he always knows when I'm awake. This morning I had to be resigned to his climbing into the bed after we left because he does that when he doesn't even get a walk around the block. "He can't help it," Linda said. He looked at me and we winked at the same time.

Linda got up and occupied the bathroom, as usual, while I trudged up the stairs to the hall toilet, and to the computer to look over the news, as is my habit on rising. I noticed that British Muslims were protesting outside the Sudanese embassy for that country's treatment of Gillian Gibbons. She allowed her sixth grade class to name a teddy bear Mohammed. The punishment for this appears to be death unless you can escape through a diplomatic channel.

We had to leave the house at eight thirty to get to the Prescott Resort for a World Aids Day breakfast. It didn't start until nine thirty but Linda is on the board of directors of Northland Cares, which provides AIDS care in Northern Arizona. "It's always nice for people to show up early to help," she said. Last night she was making the name labels at her office.

This year I was surprised to see that Northland had managed to fill up the entire ballroom. Each table had a sponsor, and Linda had one of the tables to fill with ten people. We invited a neighbor who is interested in working with non-profits, so that he could get to know some people attending from the local guidance clinic. It provides services for a lot of people, some of them recovering addicts and alcoholics. Most of the rest of the table was Linda's coworkers.

I won't drag you through the entire breakfast but I will tell you that doctor's are sometimes overcome with emotion when they remember what has been lost in this epidemic, and share their concern that the level of support is always in peril. These are doctors who work for what most people would consider very modest salaries, because some of the people they serve are poor and outcast. AIDS continues to be a disease with a stigma.

In medicine a stigma is a mark or a characteristic associated with a disease or abnormality. In psychology, it is a reproduction of the wounds of Jesus, a spontaneous bleeding from those wounds. The thing that made Jesus different from most people for whom time stops and then starts over again is that he was a bohemian, at least under Herb Gold's definition: Somebody who identifies with the class just below, instead of the class just above.

A doctor from Tucson, a guest speaker, was introduced by my doctor. She isn't really good for me because she gives me heart palpations but I soldier on. After taking the podium, the guest began to speak about the patients he has lost to AIDS, and about the constant struggle with funding. There was a point where there was a moment of silence, and I knew what he was feeling. Sometimes the emotions paralyze you and you want to push them back down and keep your composure, but ... you really are paralyzed ... there's nothing to do but wait until the feelings subside.

At such moments the power of the emotion being uncaged has a magnetic resonance. This morning it moved through the room. He said, "I'm sorry," and tried to continue but it was too strong and he had to wait again. It passed through all of us, sitting at the banquet tables draped with white clothes, on chairs draped in while cloth. There is something unbearably real in such moments, a shared wave of feeling released from behind the stone we roll into place to seal it inside. But spirit can't be contained with stone.

And I felt that numbing helplessness too, of watching people die and not being able to help them because they are dying of a mystery disease. I remembered the people dying all around me when the epidemic began. I saw their faces, and I saw the fear when the death sentence was given to them. Some died very quickly, surrender their only form of control. Some fought on and survived. Some fought on and didn't survive.

I remember sitting in a hospital room with my wife. A man was dying. My wife had opened a business in the Castro District of San Francisco, and many of her clients had contracted HIV. At that time it wasn't called AIDS as yet. It was still called Kaposi Sarcoma, which is a cancer that characterized the first known cases. I was throwing a party in the State Suite at the St. Francis when I heard about it, a perk of writing a magazine article about the hotel. A doctor and nurse I knew were talking about these cases that were from an unknown source. It was the first hint of the epidemic.

But it became known pretty fast, and San Francisco was a plague city. "He's asleep and listening to music," the nurse said. The man had on headphones and was deeply asleep. We had come in to visit him, knowing that he was very ill, and might die. A few nights before I had dreamed about a telephone conversation, which on waking I realized was between my wife and someone else. In the dream I heard both sides of it perfectly, even though there was no way I consciously heard it. I was in the next room. But the dream convinced me that the unconscious hears things the conscious mind never knows about and thinks it can't know about.

I had done some deep trance work with this man, and out of curiosity I said, without raising my voice from the hushed level of the conversation between my wife and I, "If you can hear my voice, please signal with the little finger of the left hand." The finger raised and lowered. I make a lot of use of ideomotor signaling when I do hypnosis. I proceeded to talk to him at that level, and each time I asked for agreement from the unconscious, I got it. My wife didn't believe he was really listening to music, but when she moved close enough, she could hear that he was listening to music. Logically, he should not have heard my voice.

Brugh Joy says that the conscious mind is like a crack we look through, and that the unconscious is by comparison the rest of the picture. That has been demonstrated so many times, in my experience, that it isn't even debatable. Below the level of individual consciousness there is shared consciousness, the same thing in me as in you. It moved through the room this morning, and though the doctor apologized again, because he could not stop it, the rest of the people in the room stood up, and they applauded.

The applause was the only gesture available to show appreciation, on this day, for the depth of the sorrow AIDS has brought to so many people, among them the most vulnerable and easily rejected by those whose eyes are turned to the class just above. These doctors and volunteers and supporters who have made the difference between life and death for so many people are on the front lines.

Most of us stand in the background and whisper, "Horseman, pass by."

Others get a lance and a shield and go out to meet him on the field of battle.

And sometimes they stand before us without armor, and we see the wounded healers.

When I came home Sammy the dog had been unable to help himself from getting on the bed. Punishing him does no good. It's like me when I eat all the chocolate in the refrigerator. I can't help it. "We can't help being dogs," I said, and we exchanged another wink. Outside it was a blustery day, and I had on earbuds pumping Eric Clapton at full volume, and the rain began to blow across the street at a forty five degree angle. Sammy started to pull, heading back home now ... and Clapton was singing:

Time can break you down, time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart, have you begging, please
Begging Please ...

Posted: Sat - December 1, 2007 at 05:18 PM