A few months ago I wrote about a vicious attack on my best friend that resulted in hospitalization, stitches, and trauma. Readers contacted me to express their support for my friend and to inquire about his well-being. I have passed along your well wishes, and he appreciates them beyond measure. I'm happy to report that he is alive and well, although still smarting from being a victim of such a cruel and senseless crime. Without a doubt it will take time for him to recover emotionally and to rediscover a sense of safety.
Since his attack, I have continued to reflect on something I mentioned in that same column'when I related to the choices that we make as people who are HIV-positive. Specifically, I invited all of us to meditate on what our choices in love reveal about what we really feel about ourselves. I framed that question''What do we deserve?''with love in mind. This is a vital question, to be sure, since both companionship and sex make up essential elements of what it means to be human. And happy. And connected.
But what about the other choices that we make? Surely decisions about who we decide to pursue as love interests are not the only decisions that matter in life. When thinking about this question, I recall when I worked at an outpatient HIV clinic, where one of the central questions we asked newly diagnosed patients was, 'How have you dealt with stressful situations in the past?' The point was to see how people dealt with pain. Did they reach out to people they loved? Did they cry about it? Did they exercise? Go to therapy? Or did they withdraw from others? Turn to drugs or alcohol? Become suicidal? Develop feelings of worthlessness or despair?
It seems to me that our day-to-day decisions matter a great deal, especially as related to those moments in our lives where we are scared, vulnerable, or lonely, much like those I worked with at the clinic. I believe, as I've said before, that how we deal with death is as important as how we deal with life. The circumstance prompting this statement was LeRoy Whitfield's death and how he confronted the ultimate reality'mortality'that awaits us all. His way was one of courage and dignity, and this seems like a really good approach to making our daily decisions in life, especially in those moments where we experience pain.
The same question I posed about love relationships applies here: 'What do we deserve?' I for one believe that we deserve more than the oblivion provided by alcohol or drugs. I also believe we deserve more than suffering in silence or isolation. I believe that we deserve what the rest of the human race deserves: to live with a modicum of dignity and a sense of community where we can have a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection. This does require courage, however, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable as we share our lives and struggles with one another. And it also requires dignity, for in such situations we neither apologize for who we are nor grovel for acceptance.
My best friend sustained injuries both obviously and dramatically related to a poor decision. It makes me wonder, since his attack was the starting point of this discussion, what injuries we sustain, emotional or spiritual, when we make decisions implying that we are worth less than we really are.
Fransen is a licensed clinical social worker and is in private therapy practice in Chicago. E-mail him at email@example.com.