Thirty years ago today I was handed a death sentence. At least that is what an HIV diagnosis meant in 1988. In fact, it meant so much more than just death. It meant shame. It meant stigma. It meant judgement and isolation. It meant pain and disappointment — not just for me but for everyone who loved me. It was hard to imagine that there was any good in it. Any positive morsel or silver lining. In an effort to comfort me on hard days, Mom would say, “Honey, there are no guarantees for anyone. Any of us could walk outside tomorrow and be hit by a banana truck.” True. Sort of. Not sure I have ever seen a banana truck, but that’s not the point. The point was that there was a difference between minding your own business and being plowed down by a banana truck…and walking outside every day LOOKING for a banana truck. That said, I stopped looking for the banana truck a long time ago. And, as it turns out, this deadly diagnosis 30 years ago was not a radical veer off course robbing me of the life I was supposed to have, but rather, in an instant, the moment I stepped into the journey that has been my amazing life thus far. Truly amazing. First, perspective…I’m here. Just being alive in 2018, the mother of 3 daughters, did not only seem unlikely in 1988, it seemed implausible at best and more realistically, impossible at the time. Amazing. Sometimes I have to remind myself to stop and be amazed, or at least grateful. In fact, I am grateful. In ways I can not express with words, I am so grateful. Grateful to be here in this messy, chaotic, go-go-go life. I have been here for so many amazing things. I graduated from college. Worked on Capitol Hill. Discovered advocacy and activism. Witnessed my mother earn her PhD. Built WISE. Went public. Found my voice. Danced at my brothers weddings. Thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Became a Mom. Built The Well Project and the WRI. Went diving in Bonaire, trekking in the Serengeti, paragliding in the Himalayas, and skydiving in rural Georgia. Became an Aunt (again and again!). Given talks at the UN and on a TEDX stage. Served two terms of a Presidential appointment under Obama. Found Rosi. Cheered at hundreds of soccer games and dozens of regattas. Moved to a bucolic farm. And had the privilege to be a voice for women living with HIV — most of whom, I will never know.
Tomorrow, the first of my 3 miracle babies turns 16.
Just take it in. I am. Please don’t conflate amazing and easy. Living with a life-threatening disease isn’t easy….life isn’t easy. But it’s worth it. And I could not do it without all of you. My amazing friends and family and mentors, advisors, gurus, and buddies.
So, today, on the 30th anniversary of my HIV diagnosis, I hope you will take a moment to raise a glass, have a cup of tea, pause and marvel at the majesty of it all — and know that I am sharing that moment with you, in deep gratitude for all you mean to me.