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Yvonne

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 always will.

The 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.

That 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 attended Mass.

One 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 didn’t turn around. Why should I have done so? It was a free country. That person could sit wherever s/he pleased.

At 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.

I 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 don’t 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."

HE paused for JUST a nano-second, took my hand and said something. I can’t remember what it was. He handshake was very weak but not short. He held on for a moment. He didn’t look at me.

The 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 once.

I 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.

I remember that man and that moment as if it were yesterday. I learned compassion.

I 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 you

Yvonne

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