Many years ago, more than I care to think about, in my university days, I used to march and shout and speak out loud about HIV awareness and fighting stigma.
If there was an HIV event, I was there. It was probably right then that I realised that I needed to be working in an HIV related environment.
In those days, very few people spoke about HIV, people who were HIV positive kept quiet and a lot of people only were diagnosed when they became really sick.
I am so happy to say that in my environment, that is rarely the case anymore. People are more outspoken and unafraid to share their status with others and the stigma related to HIV is reducing.
During my mission to immerse myself in HIV work, I was exposed to a man who would not only change my life but would change countless other people’s lives too.
David Patient is an inspiration to us all – he has lived with HIV for longer than most and his positive personality has rubbed off on many.
With his kind permission, I am sharing what he wrote this morning:
I was going to remain silent this World AIDS day…no funny one-liners or snappy comments-just silence-…. and then I read this and it sums up everything I am feeling… takes me back to my diagnosis almost 33 years ago and reminds me of all those I have lost to HIV and how people treated us, the ‘UGLY’ back then….we may have come a long way, but we still have so far to go…. this is a tribute to all the ‘uglies’ of the world, past, present and future….
This abandoned little kitten was found wandering the streets, and every time people saw him they’d shy away from him because he looked ugly and sick. His name? Ugly the cat. One man took pity on the poor thing and shared his love with Ugly, before he died in his arms.
Everyone in the apartment complex I lived in knew who Ugly was. Ugly was the resident tomcat.
Ugly loved three things in this world: fighting, eating garbage and shall we say, love. The combination of these things combined with life spent outside had their effect on Ugly.
To start with, he had only one eye, and where the others should have been was a gaping hole. He was also missing his ear on the same side, his left foot has appeared to have been badly broken at one time, and had healed at an unnatural angle, making him look like he was always turning the corner. His tail has long since been lost, leaving only the smallest stub, which he would constantly jerk and twitch. Ugly would have been a dark gray tabby striped-type, except for the sores covering his head, neck; even his shoulders with thick, yellow scabs.
Every time someone saw Ugly there was the same reaction “Thats one ugly cat!” All the children were warned not to touch him, the adults threw rocks at him, hosed him down, squirted him when he tried to come to their homes, or shut his paws in the door when he would not leave.
Ugly always had the same reaction. If you turned the hose on him, he would stand there, getting soaked until you gave up and quit. If you threw things at him, he would curl his lanky body around his feet in forgiveness. Whenever he spied children, he would come running meowing frantically and bump his head against their hands, begging for their love. If you ever picked him up he would immediately begin suckling on your shirt, earrings or what ever he could find.
One day Ugly shared his love with the neighbor’s huskies. They did not respond kindly, and Ugly was badly mauled. From my apartment I could hear his screams, and I tried to rush to his aid. By the time I got to where he was laying, it was apparent Ugly’s sad life was almost at an end.
Ugly lay in a wet circle, his back legs and lower back twisted grossly out of shape, a gaping tear in the white strip of fur that ran down his front. As I picked him up and tried to carry him home I could hear him wheezing and gasping, and I could feel him struggling. I must be hurting him terribly I thought.
Then I felt a familiar tugging, sucking sensation on my ear – Ugly, in so much pain, suffering and obviously dying was trying to suckle my ear. I pulled him closer to me, and he bumped my palm with his head. Then, he turned his one golden eye towards me. I could hear the distinct sound of purring. Even in the greatest pain that ugly battle-scarred cat was asking only for a little affection, perhaps some compassion.
At the moment I thought Ugly was the most beautiful, loving creature I had ever seen. Never once did he try to bite or scratch me, or even try to get away from me, or struggle in any way. Ugly just looked up at me completely trusting in me to relieve his pain.
Ugly died in my arms before I could get inside, but I sat and held him for a long time afterwards, thinking about how one scarred, deformed little stray could so alter my opinion about what it means to have true pureness of spirit, to love so totally and truly. Ugly taught me more about giving and compassion than a thousand books, lectures, or talk show specials ever could, and for that I will always be thankful. He had be scarred on the outside, but I was scarred on the inside, and it was time for me to move on and learn to love truly and deeply. To give my total to those I care for.
Many people want to be richer, more successful, well liked, beautiful, but for me, I will always try to be Ugly.
The author of this story is unknown. If it is a real story or not we may never know. But it does teach us a very important lesson!
Let’s always remember, when a person or an animal looks scary or ugly, it’s not always their fault – sometimes, you can wipe away that weathered surface with some love and compassion.
May every person lost to HIV and AIDS be remembered with love today, and may all of you still dealing with HIV be courageous and wonderful.
To find out more about David Patient, please visit his website:
One Republic has an amazing song called “I lived”.
The lyrics are so inspiring –
Hope when the water rises, you built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out, they’re screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay
Hope that you fall in love, and it hurts so bad
The only way you can know is give it all you have
And I hope that you don’t suffer but take the pain
Hope when the moment comes, you’ll say…
I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did
With every broken bone, I swear I lived
Hope that you spend your days, but they all add up
And when that sun goes down, hope you raise your cup
Oh, I wish that I could witness all your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes, I’ll say…
I, I did it all
Not only are the words inspiring but the song is dedicated to one of their fans, Bryan Warnecke who battles with Cystic Fibrosis. Yet, he does it all and lives for every moment.
So who are we to live our lives always fearing the future?
In my opinion, there is no difference between a physical illness and a mental illness.
If somebody with a physical illness can say that they “owned every second”, we should be able to do that too.
Do not allow Depression, Stress, Anxiety, Bipolar Mood Disorder or any other diagnosis to be in control of you.
It may be your illness but it should not be the manager of your life.
We spend so many moments waiting to get better or waiting for life to be better rather than making the most of that precious moment that we are living.
Be awesome, live with courage, have faith, embrace life so that you too can say, “I did it all”!
This week’s blog is dedicated to my friend, mentor and inspiration David who really does it all despite everything.