I Know a man who has the AlDS virus. I've known him a long time and we have gained a great deal from our deep friendship. It is not easy to accept that he will most likely die in the not too distant future. We all are going to die some time, so I am not sure why this should be so troubling. No one promised us 70-plus years of life. Why then do we often feel cheated if it is otherwise? We hear comments like, "His (or her) life was cut short." Is this really true? How do we know, and why do we try to judge?
Because my friend leads a homosexual life-style, I could say he "played with fire and got burned." That, somehow, might make it easier to accept or put aside, but that would be simplistic at best. He is a very high-quality individual from many other perspectives — more so, perhaps, than many who think and feel themselves superior. Do I have the need or right to judge his need or right to pass through the life he now lives? Possibly we all focus too much attention on our physical bodies and needs — then again where is the balance? Perhaps if we were more compassionate we could see the larger picture.
A further dimension was added when my friend told me that, if their AIDS virus went into the full-blown stage, he and many other friends/acquaintances would most likely kill themselves rather than drag themselves and with them their families and friends through the hell this terrible affliction creates. As an example, abandonment by friends and families is a consistent fact of their experience. I cannot tell you how deeply this unnerved me. I still feel the agitation.
Life to me is sacred. How could anyone take away what he could not give? I tried every possible approach to change his mind from such a path. But I was neutralized. I felt I had failed. His ironclad resolution was still intact. Feeling empty and numb, I felt despair crushing in on me. Why wasn't my need greater than his? I realized my selfishness in trying to manipulate him to accept my standards — this was the basis for my feeling powerless, my ego.
Also, I realized I had fallen prey to the terrific force/negativity generated by these people's sense of hopelessness, paranoia, and "God is punishing us" type of feelings and thoughts. If we lose hope, we lose all. "There's nothing ennobling about suffering this kind of death," he said to me. "If you were in my shoes and had seen the kind of suffering people go through who have AIDS, you might change your mind." On and on he went, perfectly countering everything I could offer. What remained was the need for unqualified love. I can't live his life for him, neither have I the right to judge harshly his ways. Being a professional lecturer/educator on AIDS gives him a view I don't have.
Maybe, just maybe, his choice to end his life this way may carry more compassion with it than I can see. None of us wants others around us to suffer for our choices. We would spare them that if we could. This is not approval or any form thereof, not at all — it is an attempt at a compassionate acceptance of life as it is.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1987; copyright © 1987 Theosophical University Press)