Tuesday, December 4, 2012

et cum Lazaro-- a young adult reflection on World AIDS Day

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est…[1]
Et cum Lazaro quondam paupere[2]
Come then, my God!
Shine on this blood,
 and water in one beam,
 and thou shalt see,
 kindled by thee
Both liquors burn, and stream.[3]

S.R. Glenn
December 2, 2012

December 1, 2012 marked the twenty-eighth recognition ofWorld AIDS Day, the first global health day. It was also the second World AIDS Day since my diagnosis with the HIV virus onJanuary 10, 2011 in New York City. It is oddly fitting that the week-longtorment of my seroconversion (which, at the time, I mistook for a severe flu)happened to follow on the heels of the observance of World AIDS Day in late2010. It was at such time that I was working on a Master of Arts in Music atQueens College in Flushing, New York. In the midst of my fever, aches, massivefatigue, chills, and loss of appetite, I was required to conduct a concert ofmotets by the twentieth century composer, Maurice Duruflé, for my privatestudy of choral conducting. It was with great resistance and bodily objectionthat I pulled myself out of bed on December 15, 2010, put on my tuxedo, andslowly made my way from my room in Jackson Heights, down 82nd streetcatch a train to the Queens College campus. I wondered if I would be able tofulfill my duties that evening. Indeed, I could barely lift my arms to put onmy coat; how was I supposed to conduct?

Lengthy narrative aside, I made it to the pre-concert warmup and managed to work with a fine group of singers through Duruflé’sUbi caritas, a motet that would become an aural signifier of myconversion and eventual diagnosis, some three and a half weeks later. I did notrealize at that time that I would soon become part of a three-decade longstory; that I would shortly be joined by blood, as it were, to a kind ofeschatological community of those living and those departed. I did not realizethen that I would soon, like Lazarus, witness a kind of ongoing resurrectionwithin myself. As a member of a Eucharistic community, I knew long before mydiagnosis the power often signified by blood; yet now it would come to signifysomething more, something quite multivalent.

I had never personally lost anyone to HIV/AIDS, for I wouldonly become conscious of that world long after the trials and tribulations ofthe 1980s and 1990s when I began to identify my queer sexuality as a gay man inthe early 2000s. I did, however, have a role model: Lu, my roommate during mylast two years of undergraduate study in Seattle, Washington. Lu was a reminderof the strength that comes through facing tribulation head-on. He was the firstperson I called after learning of my diagnosis, even before I called my immediatefamily members or informed my now-long-term partner oftwo years. Over the phone, Lu simply said, “welcome, brother.” It was almost abaptismal greeting. Lu had been living with the virus since the mid-90s, andcontinues to live with a vibrancy few can hope to imitate. He broke the wallthat separated me from HIV-positive individuals; I could put a face to thecondition, and a courageous one, at that; a face that I loved and continue tolove. He had lived through the riskiness of early treatments, when medicationshad to be administered every four hours in doses I cannot possibly fathom.Knowledge of those times haunts me nightly as I administer my once-daily doseof Atripla.

During the week after my diagnosis, a week for which fewdetails survive the haze, I attended a daily said Eucharist at my thenhome-church, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where I had recentlystarted living above the diocesan house. It was at that service that the canonfor liturgy and arts gave a sermon concerning matters of epiphany season. Thedetails of his sermon escape me now, almost two years later, but they resonatedwith my struggle to face the virus head-on. I recall thanking the canon as Ileft the service, for I was quite candid with him and revealed the reasons forhis sermon’s resonance within me. What he said to me thereafter has remainedwith me since: he took my hands, smiled, and said, “We live now, forthis is when God comes to us.
And so, his words, coupled with Duruflé’ssetting of the Maundy Thursday hymn, Ubi caritas, changed my renderingof the circumstances. Indeed, I have come to learn through my twenty-threemonths with the virus that it is within our woundedness that God comesto us—that we may, in some way, see the face of the wounded yet eternallyrisen Christ. Through our own wounded resurrection, as once did Christresurrect our brother-in-woundedness, Lazarus, we can make manifest the MaundyThursday trope: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est (Where charity andlove are, God himself is there). Even though the trials of the 80s and 90s arebehind us, the work has, in many ways, just begun; may God grant that we neversuccumb to the atrophy of apathy.

S.R. Glenn is a candidate for the Master of Theological Studies at the Boston University School of Theology and seminarian for the Boston University Episcopal Chaplaincy. 

[1] MaundyThursday Hymn at the washing of feet.
[2] From the InParadisum of the Requiem Mass.
[3] HenryVaughan, Midnight.