Columnist Jeff Berry reflects on his emotional encounter with an HIV-positive woman
In early September of last year, I was attending the United States Conference on AIDS in Orlando, Fla., and running late for a dinner I had been invited to that evening. AIDS conferences are the endurance marathons for AIDS activists, from the moment you wake up until you hit your pillow late at night you are literally running from session to meeting to workshop to reception, just to get up and do it all over again. This goes on for a number of days, and you’re lucky if you get five to six hours of sleep each night. Invariably when you get home you are exhausted and spent — but in a good way.
As I was hurrying down a long, wide corridor filled with people scurrying to their own reception/dinner/meeting, one person who was headed toward me in the opposite direction caught my eye. She seemed to recognize me, but I was pretty sure I didn’t know her, and I was late for my dinner, so I smiled back but decided to keep moving. But then, as we neared each other we both stopped, and she began to talk. And my eyes started to well up as she shared her story.
She introduced herself and said she wanted to thank me. When she was incarcerated (she explained then and in a subsequent conversation) they would send her to a local HIV clinic every three months, and that is where she discovered “Positively Aware” magazine. She told me it gave her hope — I think her exact words were, “It saved my life.”
She told me that reading about my personal journey and my own struggles touched her deeply during a dark time in her life (she had learned she was HIV-positive and had lost a friend due to complications from AIDS). But by reading the magazine, somehow she knew she was going to be OK. She knew nothing about which regimens to take or what resources were there for her, but she learned how to formulate questions for her doctor and get the care that she needed.
I told her how glad I was to have made a difference in some small way, and how much it meant to me that she shared her story with me. We exchanged cards and both went on our busy way, but I have never forgotten that moment — it will stay with me for the rest of my life.
So this is why those of us who work in HIV do what we do, and demonstrates the incredible power that knowledge and sharing our stories can hold. And no matter what field you work in, there is a common thread that weaves throughout all of our stories, that keeps us moving forward and reminds us of our own humanity.
It really does take a village, and it’s important to stop and take the time to listen to each other. No one is an island. Individually we can make our own personal achievements, but collectively and working together we can change lives.
Take care of yourself, and each other. n
Jeff Berry is the editor in chief of “Positively Aware” magazine, and director of publications at Test Positive Aware Network in Chicago. Find him on Twitter @PAEditor. This column is a project of “Plus,” “Positively Aware,” “POZ,” TheBody.com and Q Syndicate, the LGBT wire service. Visit their websites — http://hivplusmag.com; http://positivelyaware.com; http://poz.com; and http://thebody.com — for the latest updates on HIV/AIDS