“Not really,” she says. “When I told him about my dad having AIDS, he responded to me almost the same way I’d responded to my dad. I could tell he didn’t want to hear about it. Like me, I suppose he was in shock. He wanted to get away, probably because he didn’t know what to say or how to react.”
After knowing about her dad’s AIDS for only a few hours, Stephanie had already learned something: AIDS makes people uncomfortable. Even close friends and family members. Sure, it’s a disease, just like cancer is a disease, but it’s a disease that carries a serious stigma.
As Stephanie tells me about her reaction, about her boyfriend’s reaction and about the reactions of so many other people when they find out a person has AIDS, something strikes me. I wonder if a person with AIDS feels something like the leper in the New Testament who had to yell, “Unclean, unclean!” as he walked through the streets so everyone else could scatter and avoid touching or even seeing him. Not much of a life.
But I also think about how Jesus was right there, caring for the leper,Ã‚Â touchingÃ‚Â the leper, ignoring the fear others felt in the face of a horrible disease.
Stephanie knew she had to put her fears aside and, like Jesus, act out of love. “I really loved my dad a lot,” she says. “One of the things he taught me as a child was to hug the people you love and tell them that you love them. He taught me how important it is to show love to people. That’s probably one of the greatest gifts he gave me, and his illness was a chance for me to give something back to him.”
So Stephanie, along with her dad’s twin sister, began caring for her dad as much as possible. They took him to doctors’ appointments, cleaned his apartment and fixed him meals. Stephanie says, “I could help my dad physically. I could support him emotionally by loving him. But spiritually, there was little I felt I could offer. I hadn’t given up on God, and in fact, I was spending more and more time praying. But for some reason, I wasn’t able to share that part of my life with my dad.
“But my aunt is a very strong Christian who feels comfortable talking about her faith and God and salvation. She was able to give my dad what I couldn’tÃ¢â‚¬â€real spiritual support and encouragement.”
As people began learning about her dad’s AIDS, Stephanie was often asked how he got it. And I have to admit, I’ve been wondering the same thing. So I ask Stephanie how she handled that question
“I’ll be honest, I hated it when someone asked me that,” she says. “I felt they’d already prejudged him. They automatically assumed he did something to get the disease. The truth is, I don’t know how he got it. He was in an accident and had some blood transfusions in the ’80s, before blood was screened carefully. He also lived a fairly promiscuous life after the divorce. Did he do drugs? Was he a homosexual? I don’t know. But does that really matter? If he got AIDS through a homosexual relationship, should he be thought less of than if he got it from a blood transfusion?”
I listen to Stephanie and hear obvious frustration and hurt in her voice. In my mind, I think back to another picture of Jesus. I can hear him addressing an angry crowd, saying something like, “Any of you who haven’t sinned, go ahead, be my guest and throw the first stone at this woman.” The woman in that story had been caught in the actÃ¢â‚¬â€in the actÃ¢â‚¬â€of adultery, and still, not a single stone was thrown that day. I’m reminded that judging another person’s actions isn’t our job as humans.
Stephanie moves ahead a few months in her story to a turning point in her dad’s disease. “I had been helping as much as I could, trying my best to be there for my dad. But sometimes I felt angry and frustrated. I was trying to finish college, work and take care of my dad Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ it was too much. I felt like I couldn’t focus on him completely. It was just too hard.