I was born in San Francisco. I live in San Francisco;
almost always have; always will. I will die here,
I hope. I love my city; almost always have; probably
damage done by and to the former and present
hippies, druggies, drunks, prostitutes, pimps,
dealers, criminals and bums of our city pale in comparison to the havoc wrecked by HIV/AIDS.
I was fairly complacent, cavalier and unimpressed
with the world of the above, even at the young
age of sixteen. I had already seen too much
of the "flower people" and such to
be impressed by their plight. They made their
bed....so to speak.
was to change. In 1985, or so, almost right
after my husband (now ex-husband) and I had
returned from living in the middle east, I was
regularly attending St. Agnes Church, a bastion
of compassion in the Haight-Ashbury district
of San Francisco, the origin of the hippy movement
in San Francisco. The Church, including, naturally,
St. Agnes, was heavy into feeding the desperately
poor, down-and-out, drug addicts, mentally-emotionally
ill, disabled, home-bound elderly, HIVAIDS patients
and drunks of the area, as per standard operating
procedure. On rare occasions some of these folks
Sunday I was at Mass and I "felt"
someone come into the pew RIGHT in back of me.
That was very unusual as the church was huge
and there were, as usual, only about 50 people
in attendance. We few usually spread ourselves
out around the front 10 pews. Whoever it was
put him/herself DIRECTLY in back of me.....also
very unusual. I didnt turn around. Why
should I have done so? It was a free country.
That person could sit wherever s/he pleased.
the part of the Mass where we all turn around
and "greet" our neighbors I turned
around with my hand out and "Peace be with
you" on my lips.
saw a gaunt, cringing, hunched-up young man,
thin as a rail, about 20 or so, pale as a ghost.
When I turned around, he AL-most recoiled. I
dont know if it was me, my outstretched
hand or what. I paused for JUST a nano-second,
kept my outstretched hand where it was and said,
"Peace be with you."
paused for JUST a nano-second, took my hand
and said something. I cant remember what
it was. He handshake was very weak but not short.
He held on for a moment. He didnt look
expression on his face, his emaciated body and
his whole body language told me that he was
PROBABLY dying of AIDS. I had already seen that
"look" too often in the City. It was
dreadful, pathetic and extremely sad all at
was moved. I spend the rest of the Mass (about
15 minutes) trying very hard not to weep. My
throat still constricts today, after twenty
long years. Tears well up as I write this. They
do every time I think of him.
remember that man and that moment as if it were
yesterday. I learned compassion.
wish I had learned it sooner. I need reminding
sometimes. Rutger Hauer continues to remind.
He is a role model for us all, for me. Thank
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