If there’s one thing this past week that made me stop and think, ponder and reflect, it was Charlie’s letter.
I’m Charlie, turning 27 in a couple of months. I’d like to share my story with your readers… I found out about my condition (…) last year. I’m HIV positive.
His was the third I received this August, talking about being HIV-positive. His letter simply rendered me without anything to say, at least temporarily. I didn’t know how to react. It was overwhelming. I thought, if I fire off sweet, encouraging words, will that really help? Will that really make Charlie feel better about his condition? If I start playing the role of a cold jaundiced preacher, lecturing on lessons learned from Charlie’s experience and perhaps advocate “safe sex” till the cows come home, will it really make a difference? I don’t know.
While reflecting, I caught myself midstream — I realized the approach I was taking was not helping anyone, in fact it was not helping me. I was being too messianic. I don’t need to be a superman and rush to the rescue. I thought, maybe before I lecture to anyone on the matter, if I ever so decide to, I should process whatever mixture of feelings I had for myself first.
Why did I feel the way I felt after reading Charlie’s letter? Bakit ba tila kay lakas na dagok sa dibdib ang maigsing sulat na iyon, nakapanlulumo, nakapanlalambot? I knew it was fear, but a different, very potent kind. It was like I was blindfolded, and a venomous snake is nearby, staring at me, ready to pounce at any moment.
There really is something about realizing our mortality that most powerfully moves us to look at the neglected corners of our lives. There lies the cobwebs of important things set aside and forgotten, the meaning of one’s life, the significance of one’s existence. And so while I do advocate safe sex, Charlie’s letter for me was a push towards learning a much deeper lesson, an inspiration to tap into a much more powerful force inside me. And that for me, is the journey to discover my ultimate significance on the face of the earth. I drank from Charlie’s chalice of sorrow, and was moved to ask myself, yet again, what am I here for, what is my role, what is my relevance in this wild, wobbly world?
Even with just that question I felt jolted with an inexplicable amount of energy to push forward. Even without the answer, I feel so much zest for life, not devoid of fear about the future and what it may bring but palpably more hopeful, more enthusiastic.
Suddenly I don’t worry too much about mortality. Yes death is still unknown, and thus frightening, but I realize what makes it really scary is not that it’s unknown. Between now and when it happens, if there is nothing substantial in between, that is what’s scary. Emptiness is the culprit. By asking about my own significance and relevance I move myself further from that terrifying emptiness, and closer to a more meaningful existence.
After all these, am I still afraid to contract HIV?
Will I still resolve to practice and advocate safe sex?
For both questions, my answer — yes, of course.
But not so much because I’m afraid to die. (All of us eventually will.)
It’s because I’m just too excited to live my life significantly, relevantly — joyfully, meaningfully.
Thank you Charlie for such elegant lesson.
[Postscript: I do not think contracting HIV stands in the way of living one’s life significantly and relevantly. It may have dampened your zest for life, Charlie, but you know you can decide otherwise.]
For Charlie — “Stand Up For Love” by Destiny’s Child.