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Know Your History

Know Your History


I had never before visited San Francisco. At least until this past week. So many friends of mine have described the city as one of the most beautiful and captivating they have ever seen. After being fortunate enough to visit the city for several days, I must admit that I cannot argue with them. The rolling hills, the Golden Gate Bridge, the skyline, the picturesque neighborhoods, the fog. People were remarkably friendly and laidback, the weather was sunny and temperate, the food amazing. In all, it was a wonderful trip and I enjoyed myself immensely. I hope to go back soon! Nevertheless, I was also'strangely--filled with a sense of sadness and loss. At first I couldn't identify why. However, one day as I visited Golden Gate Park, it became apparent. There I was, surrounded on a huge open green space by hundreds of people enjoying themselves in pure fun. People played music, danced, threw Frisbees, lounged on the grass, rollerskated. In short, they played. It was mesmerizing and relaxing. It made me happy. But then I walked around more and happened to stumble upon the National AIDS Memorial Grove, a touching tribute to those who have died of AIDS. At many times I became tearful, noting the names of so many men and women whose lives had been cut short. It was a mini retreat in the city, a place to ponder, memorialize, and grieve those who have gone before us--our 'predecessors.' I also became tearful at Grace Cathedral, a famous Episcopalian church that was one of the first churches to house an AIDS memorial chapel, which they now refer to as the AIDS Interfaith Chapel. It was replete with art by Keith Haring and a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. There were names and dates of birth and death of many people who have died. Some were 32; others, 46; yet some others, 27, 59. I read the tributes from friends and family members. It was deeply moving. It made very real the stark reality ultimately surrounding our illness. The sadness I initially felt--yet could not identify--became palpable. Each house I passed, each street I walked down conjured ghosts. I kept trying to imagine what it would have been like to live in San Francisco in the 1980s. I wondered how many neighborhoods were decimated. How many friends lost. How dramatically life changed for so many people. I am reminded of conversations with friends who spoke of developing grief fatigue; they couldn't absorb any more sadness, withstand any more losses, attend any more funerals. They shut down. I tried to imagine losing all my friends. I couldn't begin to understand the enormity of the loss. Why do I reflect about such things? We are at a very different place in history now, you might say. This is true. And I certainly do not hope to revisit old wounds simply for the sake of revisiting old wounds. However, I do believe it's important to know one's history. I also believe that it is important to recognize how differently life could have turned out if I had been born at a different time in history or in a different country. These factors are random, have nothing to do with merit, and make me incredibly grateful for my life circumstances. Revisiting some of these wounds encourages me to do the very best I can with my life--because so many others were robbed of their chance to do the same.

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