Today is World AIDS Day. I have been looking for something special to say about this day, but I don’t have the words. Just about every day is AIDS Day for me. I have friends who are living with HIV and I see them almost every Wednesday at the Damien Center. Once in a while they’re too sick to do their volunteer work. But most often they arrive with big grins and tight hugs, chatting about this and that as they zip past my desk.
I take the calls. Most are asking for someone, and usually I can connect them. Some want information and an appointment for a test. I am careful to make it easy to come in, because just picking up that phone to call could have taken them weeks.
Last week, someone called to talk. He sounded anxious and confessed to me that he was “new to all this” and had just “become active” a couple of months ago.
“Sweetheart, do you need to be tested?”
“Are you someone I can talk to?” he asked. He sounded near tears.
Oh God. “Yes, I am, but I’m just the receptionist. Let me find you someone better qualified.”
I turned to a nearby employee quietly to ask where to refer the call, and he took the phone. But the caller had hung up.
The torrent of “what ifs” and “should haves” is beginning to subside. I pray for the man who called, that he found someone to talk to. I am well aware of what this season brings to those vulnerable people who feel they have no one.
“Awareness” calls for so many things. On this day, I would ask you to be aware of those living with HIV. Bring it up in conversation so that our culture is no longer one of shame. I believe awareness can bring about a culture of compassion, so that picking up the phone is not nearly so hard.