Thursday, November 20, 2008


It’s pretty obvious -- though some resist knowing -- that AIDS is a concern for all of us because anyone (man, woman or child) can be infected, because the economic consequences of whole nations losing generations of parents, because the cultural loss when the makers and storytellers die are human losses so subtle and yet so devastating in their consequences that human civilization is changed. Pandemics like AIDS are the consequences of war but also the causes of war: they make the wheel of death go round. In Somalia we see the effect of a nation that has collapsed. As a lawless haven for pirates it has has basically removed the Suez Canal. That’s only an economic toll.

There is a direct relationship between a boy in Italy or Paris with AIDS and an old woman in Montana with Diabetes II. Both of us are constantly blood testing and watching our scores: theirs for certain cells and mine for blood glucose levels. We know these are potentially fatal conditions: an HIV-damaged immune system allows all sorts of invaders from cancer to pneumonia. Disturbed metabolism feedback loops like Diabetes also mean vulnerability. When I was diagnosed with Diabetes II, my blood glucose was over 300 (three times normal). At night I would wake up with my heart fluttering, which throws clots that cause strokes and heart attacks. We know that we won’t just fall over neatly dead. AIDS means a very long struggle and Diabetes II can mean blindness (it was my eye doctor who first diagnosed trouble), foot amputation, kidney failure. The media brandishes all these potential consequences at us as though that were helpful, as though we developed these problems because we wanted to, were somehow to blame.

Both a boy with AIDS and I with Diabetes are likely to have issues and attitudes to work through, not least of which are tests of those around us to see if they will support or abandon us. In some cases blood relations will attack us more harshly than those not related, maybe because of fear. The relative anonymity of the Internet and the safety from violence (except verbal) or contagion (except emotional), means we can relate to each other. Boys have the restless and intelligent youth I used to meet in the classroom; I have the years and years of stories and the ears to hear theirs. Gender doesn’t matter much.

Boys and old ladies can be romantic, by which I mean they are both inclined to take chances and tell stories, to make the grand gesture. (“Roman” means story, as in “roman a clef.” Romances are not always pretty.) There have been a few popular literary portraits of the boy/old woman connection. The personal angle of this is that I had two younger brothers and was taught to “take care of your little brothers” though they resented and resisted as much as they could and my methods were dominating. At least on the Internet I don’t have to worry about classroom discipline. On the other side, well, maybe they'd like to have a granny.

Both demographic categories are targeted by major pharm-corporation forces, who use their drugs in a manipulative way to make money and even to affect politics. They have joined the military-industrial complex to exploit the population with fear-marketing. AIDS patients must carefully monitor a formidable array of pills in a very precise regime. I remember sitting next to a Canadian Unitarian minister who had AIDS and used a little pill box with a “brain” that prompted him when to take what. It seemed as though its little signal was always sounding. International organizations and publishers unite to try to convince diabetics that they must have special foods, special shoes, new kinds of drugs when a simple return to the diet and practices of my childhood are enough.

Boys and I have a lot of religious questions that go far beyond convention and not just because we think about death. Since religion -- particularly a perversion of Jesus’ Christianity that twists it into pre-Abramic human sacrifice terms -- has been used to punish boys with AIDS. I think it is the privilege of an old woman with a religious studies background to call that whole mock-institutional point of view into question and ally herself with science, particularly the new scientific paradigm of relationship, process, and change, which can also be a new religious paradigm. Perhaps that can spare a boy or two worry about being damned. Call it a ministry.

Old ladies and adolescent boys are two demographic groups not normally considered “at risk,” but this is an oversight. Neither is able to quite make an independent income, so both are dependent on others to some degree. And I begin to think that both are victims of global phenomena: boys having AIDS imposed upon them and old ladies discovering their internal systems have been compromised. AIDS is a disease and Diabetes II, I’m thinking, is a response to too many strange man-made molecules floating around the planet (though the experts say it’s being fat, craving sugar, sitting too much).

Ultimately, both of these phenomena are due to overpopulation, overcomplexification, overinvestment in extending humans in every way possible without regard for consequences. We are destroying our own ecology, inviting microorganisms that were previously confined to small areas, changing the substances our bodies use, and still arguing about whether or not we’re warming the atmosphere and acidifying the ocean. Our social world is changing as much or more, because the economic factors that supported nuclear families -- like well-paid jobs in the auto industry -- are collapsing. We’ve overextended our financial arrangements to the point of disaster. Everything is connected, everything is changing.

But this is good -- even though hard on boys thrown out of their homes and old ladies scraping by in small towns -- because we are now being forced to the point of realization. I monitor my blood daily with my little machine, the AIDS boys monitor their blood with the help of clinics, and the world must also monitor its systemic indicators, the life-carrying feedback loops that keep the whole planet functioning. Blood has been equated with oil and with diamonds, but that’s a Hollywood conceit. Blood is connection, blood is change.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

This is one of the most insightful things about AIDS I've read in a long time. I've been invited to submit some of my artwork to a gallery show in Madison, WI, for World AIDS Day, and I pulled together some photography and poetry to give them. But it pales in comparison to this. You're tying things together in a very good way, here. Thanks you.