I won’t be posting many (if any) more excerpts from Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days here, for the all-too-obvious reason that I’d like people to buy the book. But I did want to post this excerpt:
“Except for when I was a child growing up in a very Catholic family, I’ve never been a ‘religious’ person in the traditional sense…
Recently, however, I’ve become a big fan of Jesus—not Jesus the Son of God, not Jesus, product of the Virgin Birth, not the bloodied caricature in gaudy prints on people’s walls, and certainly not the holy battering-ram used by those who chatter on about their personal relationships with him while at the same time using his image to justify the self-righteous, intolerant, and breathtakingly cruel behavior that he tried so hard to get people to change—but Jesus the man, the teacher.
Growing up, in church and Sunday school and elsewhere, I’d heard phrases like ‘God is love,’ and ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’, and ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged,’ and ‘Blessed are the merciful,’ so often, and from so many hypocrites, that the words, and the things that Jesus actually tried to teach, became nothing more than empty slogans that I no longer even heard.
But I’ve begun to hear them again, and to understand what Jesus, the man, so desperately and ultimately in such futility tried to teach. A short time ago I was having a discussion with a man who had made a comment to the effect that the homeless should just help themselves. Thinking of David, and of all the other people I’d met and worked with over the years who had found themselves desperate and with nothing left that would be considered valuable in this world, I tried to tell the man that, once someone reaches that state of having nothing, it becomes almost impossible for him to help himself. Those people—the despised, the sick, the ones driven by circumstances to desperate acts—are the ones with whom Jesus would have wanted to spend his time, and are the ones to whom he felt God’s love should be channeled through those who have the means to do so. It’s those who have the advantages of wealth, education, health, and decent childhoods in which love was freely given, and who nevertheless refuse to help those without those advantages and think of them as inferior and unworthy, whom Jesus would, perhaps, despise, if he ever despised anyone.
People have sometimes told me that I had “compassion” for David. I tell them that compassion had nothing to do with it—I loved him, loved spending time with him, couldn’t imagine how I could go on living my life once he was gone…
…Yet perhaps it was the fact that, by some twist of fate or destiny, he found someone who loved him unconditionally, loved him as he should have been loved from the beginning, when he had reached that point of having nothing, that helped give him what he needed to find his better self. He must have known that it was there, as I always did, but maybe if he had been left alone and with nothing in those last few months he would not have been able to reach it in time.
Jesus, the man, the teacher, would have loved David, and he would have loved that I loved David too. That, in itself, is enough to make me a fan.”