Sunday, December 2, 2012

A World AIDS Day Message from Butch McKay

World AIDS Day – December 1, 2012

As World AIDS Day approached this week and people kept asking if I had penned my World AIDS Day Message, I could only shake my head in the negative. I have been sending out my thoughts on this particular day for over 20 years, but suddenly I had trouble coming up with what I felt was an appropriate message. The year 2012 has been a mixed bag of news leaving me pondering whether my message should only focus on the many positives things that have occurred over the past 12 months, or should it be an alarm sounding message of what has not happened and what should be happening. In the mist of trying to get ready for several events and presentations, I drove out to Destin, Florida yesterday where OASIS has a tree in the Festival of Trees Charity Competition to do some fluffing around our tree after a rain storm. I'm standing beside our tree in the picture above. This year our theme was World AIDS Day. We decorated with red ribbons and white snowflakes and each were tagged with the name of a local person or a person with local contacts who had died from the complication of AIDS. We topped the tree with a beautiful Red Ribbon and placed three candles in front with messages of why we light candles on World AIDS Day. One reads” We light candles in remembrance of those we have lost to AIDS”, another reads “We light candles in support of those we love and serve” and the last one reads “We light candles as we envision a World Without AIDS”. I happened to be the only one in the park as I went about the task of fluffing the tree. I could not help reading the names on the ribbons and snowflakes, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotions. Having been in this field for 25 years I have known four times as many people who have passed as what we had represented on our tree. Still there are 204 names representing 204 people who were loved by many, mourned by many, and their lives celebrated by an entire world for their sacrifices. One of the first names I saw on a red ribbon was Roy. Roy had been a friend of forty years who was the first known AIDS death to occur in Panama City. He was a nurse’s aid in a nursing home making a difference in the lives of others. I stopped and thought of all those I have lost and was overwhelmed at how many were actually caregivers. A snowflake carried the name of Sharon who worked for me. She was a wonderful loving Mom, hard working employee, and a friend to everyone. Now her children have to grow up without their mother to guide them and comfort them. She was the Jewelry Queen ,the girl loved her bling! Next ornament celebrated the life of Terry, the most recent friend I have lost. Terry was a quiet man, preferred to live in the country and stay to himself. When I first met him he was the sole caregiver for his ailing mother and like most of our friends was too busy caring for someone else and not caring for himself. After his mother passed a lot of him died with her. He was extremely independent and never asked for much. I mourn his passing as it leaves another hole in my heart, but I celebrate that he is reunited with his Mom. I looked down on the ground and saw the name of Tim on red ribbon that had fallen from the tree. I picked it up and placed it back on the tree. Tim was someone I actually never got to meet, but someone I have come to admire. Tim was an OASIS client before I became the Director 17 years ago, who was a trailblazer of sorts. He was one of the first HIV+ people to give a television interview in the local media. I still watch that video cliff and think about the courage that took in the early 90’s in the rural panhandle of Florida. I wish I could share the lives of all 204 names we celebrate on our tree, but that is not feasible. The message would be similar in that each was a contributing member of society, giving more than they ever received. They were the front runners, the soldiers on the battlefield of AIDS, but in our hearts they were our children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, life partners, husbands, wives, neighbors, colleagues, and most importantly they were our fiends. On the Quilt panel I made for Johnny, my roommate I lost over 20 years ago is my favorite saying –“Friends are a Feeling of Forever in the Heart….Johnny was Our Friend”. All the snowflakes and red ribbons represent our friends and our hearts.
There will be many World AIDS Day messages shared around the globe today and many will be filled with lots of data and exciting news. There are wonderful developments in HIV treatment and prevention to report. You will hear a lot about getting us to Zero...Zero new HIV infections, zero new AIDS diagnoses, zero discrimination, and zero deaths especially. It is a challenge but I remain optimistic, after viewing the names on the red ribbons and snowflakes. I pray there will never have to be another name on our Holiday Tree. My heart is filled so with many hopes and dreams of those who were denied the opportunity to see those dream come true. On this World AIDS Day, may your message be the same as mine....that we make the dream of our fallen soldiers a reality.... A World Without AIDS, as we celebrate, mourn, and honor their heroic lives while supporting each other and those we love who still faces so many challenges. END AIDS NOW!
Yours in the Fight,
Butch McKay

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