Friday, June 4, 2010

"From The Ashes Risen"--A Study in Matanoia

Ostensibly, my documentary film "From The Ashes Risen" is about illness and death, about the terror of a holocaust of unspeakable proportions, about a genocide against Queermen in the 1980's and 1990's in America, but it is so much more than that. It is about metanoia--a Greek word which means "spiritual conversion through repentance". The film takes us on a journey into the darkest places of the spirit, places of sickness and fear, places of oppression and hatred, places of bigotry and war, places of deprivation and chaos. It then moves us through these things as we face them and feel them through the voices and imagery of the Queermen and nurses presented in the film to a place of repentance of the heart, into spaces of wellness and compassion, liberation and love, celebration of difference and peace, abundance and orderly non-violence. We listen to the men in the film as they struggle with their illnesses and the isolation and dislocation those illnesses produce. HIV/AIDS is a sinister disease. It rips the soul to shreds, and without the intervention of grace, breaks apart whatever semblance of community their may have been before the illness hit that community. Something happened during the AIDS War, during the Death Years, that was an intervention of grace that produced a new community of compassion in the midst of a nothingness, a depersonalization, a deathmarch.

Back in the 1980's and 1990's, AIDS produced daily life that was imbued with daily death. In one AIDS unit alone, three to four Queermen a day died horrible, ugly, painful and, with grace, sometime even peaceful deaths, but invariably death no matter what. HIV was a death sentence. Cytomegalovirus, Kaposi's Sarcoma, Toxoplasmosis, Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia, Dementia, Lymphoma, Hodgkins Disease, fungal infections of the rarest and most deadly kind, bacterial infections previously only seen in four-legged animals, viruses that could kill by themselves, wasting, unstoppable bloody diarrhea, blindness, all these and so many more illnesses killed like a plague, wiping out over 100,000 Queermen in America alone in fifteen years. Queermen were slaughtered by institutionalized homophobia being vomited forth from the minds, hearts, and mouths of a Presidential administration that hated Queermen with a rabid passion and wanted to see us all die. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush saw to it that as many Queermen as possible died, clearing out their country of Christian Family Values of all that was abomination in their minds and spirits. For the first six years of their administration the word AIDS was not uttered by them. All mention of it was blacked out of the media, with only a few articles of great significance creeping into the major newspapers like the Freedman-Kein article on Kaposi's Sarcoma in the New York Times which I remember reading on the morning it came out and how utterly frightened I was by what the doctor said and predicted. But other than those occasional articles that seemed to sneak through the wall of silence, there was no mention of this disease that was wiping out an entire generation of beautiful young Queermen in their prime in the most horrific and terrifying ways. No funding at all was given for research into finding treatment for this blackest of diseases which produced a politics all its own.

I remember that during the years between 1984 and 1995, when I was diagnosed with AIDS myself, I facilitated funerals and memorial services as a chaplain everyday of the week, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year for that entire eleven year period. I remember the tears, the wailing of loved ones who were left behind. I remember the wrenching keening of the bereaved. I remember the blackness and darkness that pervaded the very core of our existence back then. I remember the bitterness and hatred of families of origin when they found out that not only did their sons have AIDS and were dying, but that their sons were also Gay. I remember families disowning sons, leaving them to die alone without family, but only surrounded by dear friends and lovers. No family of origin in so many cases ever set foot in the hospital rooms. I remember when landlords would evict tenants with AIDS leaving them to die on park benches and on the sidewalks throughout all seasons of the year. I remember when, in the beginning, there were Emergency Rooms that would not take us in for treatment. I remember when cab drivers would not drive us to our doctors appointments. I remember when straight doctors particularly would not take us a patients. I remember when dentists would not go anywhere near our mouths, even though so many of the infections were oral and needed the care of skilled dentists and oral surgeons. I remember when People WIth AIDS were the "unclean", the "untouchables", the "lepers" of society who were shunned and without food or shelter. I remember the fear that lurked behind the eyes of every Queerman that lived back then as we walked down the streets afraid to look at each other for fear of looking death in the eye, not just the sick ones but the well ones who were just waiting their turn to sicken and die.

I also remember an extraordinary thing that happened back then. I remember that out of this fire and ice a community of compassion grew up, a community of care for the other that grew up among ourselves, because it certainly was nowhere else to be seen for such a long time. We formed our own organizations for the care of PWA's (People With AIDS), organizations like Open Hand Chicago which brought hot meals to shut-in PWA's who had no food and could not cook for themselves, or the AIDS Alternative Health Project in Chicago which provided free of charge every conceivable kind of complimentary health treatment such as acupuncture, Thai massage, Bio-energetics, deep tissue massage, Swedish massage for relaxation and stress release, meditation classes, nutritional counseling, and there is still today Test Positive Aware Network also in Chicago, founded by a wonderful man named Chris who later died of AIDS-related complications, that provided a community of support socially, politically, and spiritually for PWA's.

As members of this community of compassion and love, we went into the homes of PWA's to clean and do their laundry, to cook their meals, to clean up their vomit, to change their linens that were soaked in urine and diarrhea, to read to them and talk with them, to hold their hands and laugh with them when they felt like laughing with that wonderful joy that is an inherent part of the human spirit even in the face of excruciating pain and death, to hold them and rock them to sleep wherein they could find some temporary respite from the torture, to comfort them in their loneliness and isolation with our own spirits of love and even the warmth of our bodies laying on the beds with them holding them as they shook from the horrifying side effects of the toxic medications that were used to heal the infections, medications like Amphoteracin B and Gancylovir, that caused shaking and chills with unearthly high fevers and pain. I remember the candlelight vigils and choirs of Queer angels and Allied angels singing songs of love and healing in churches and synagogues during the memorial services and funerals. I remember a community that lived simultaneously in fear and love. It is said that "perfect love casts out fear" (New Testament), but back then fear and love were lovers, living side by side, body to body, spirit to spirit and one did not cast out the other, but only softened it, quieted it for awhile.

I cannot forget that in the midst of my still very present bouts of grief over the loss of my Brothers and especially my Queer family of men who loved me unconditionally and who were my best friends and my lovers, there lived a community that was surrounded by the Light of the Divine, the Light of Grace that brought into the AIDS War a spirit of peace and took away the violence of the trench warfare. I cannot forget that in the midst of all that chaos, fear, and darkness, there was a community of Love and Light that was so blindingly beautiful that I still weep for that incredible beauty, but mostly I weep because that community is no more. I saw back then that as the Queer Body died Queer Spirit thrived. Now, today, as the Queer Body is living because of new medications that keep us alive, Queer Spirit is dead and my work in the world is to bring that spirit of love and compassion, of peace and non-violence back to life. I intend to do this with "From The Ashes Risen". My own battle in the AIDS War, living with HIV since the early 1980's or even late 1970's, and fighting for my very life from 1995 to 2002, has taught me well what my work in the world is. It is to enliven that spirit that lived in the midst of death now in the midst of life, and it is not just a spirit for the Queer community anymore, but a spirit for the world. My work is to drive the Dark Masculine that covers the Earth today away from the world, and help usher in the Light of the Divine Feminine. War, poverty, famine, oppression, disease, bigotry, hatred, deprivation, depersonalization and dislocation, everything that makes our world a place of darkness can be melted away when the community of compassion and love rises up again and we have peace, non-violence, abundance, liberation, wellness, celebration of difference, relocation and a world of Light wherein the Dark Masculine is driven out and the new Masculine as is danced in by Queermen who know these mysteries is invited in through a knowledge of the Divine Feminine.

My dream is to have a world of relationship again, relationship that is filled with justice and peace. No more power-over but power-with will reign. My dream is that "From The Ashes Risen" brings us truly to the reality of that darkness as it existed back then in its incarnation as the AIDS War and exists now generally in the world, and moves us powerfully into a new reality of Light and Grace. My dream is that "From The Ashes Risen" will produce metanoia, a spiritual conversion through repentance for the pain, suffering, and terrible isolation that we have brought upon each other, thus bringing about a world of Embodiment and Incarnation wherein Light and Life are embodied in our very beings. My dream is that "From The Ashes Risen" with give rise to a world of justice and peace, of love and harmony, of compassion and empathy wherein the Darkness is dispelled and the Light flashes forth with new Life and new Love. I want a "new Heaven and new Earth" to be birthed through the imagery and sound of "From The Ashes Risen", through the stories of the Queermen and nurses who fought and continue to fight with courage and resilience from a place of death and destruction to a place of life and re-birth. I want "From The Ashes Risen" to transform consciousness to a place of Higher Self, a place of respect and celebration of the other, a place of Light and Love that can only come from a journey through metanoia. I just want "From The Ashes Risen" to make the world a better place in which to raise children, both Queer and straight, and in which to live our lives and be in relationship in peace. This is the work I have been given to do as I have been given my life back from the jaws of death. I hope to do that work with devotion, grace, and humility, and also a whole lot of Queer Faerie Majick.

Soli Deo Gloria

1 comment:

  1. What a rich evocation of the crisis years this post is--in all their terror and injustice, in all their manifestations of grace and deep solidarity. It bodes very well indeed for the film that you bring such a rich web of experience, and such deep discernment, to the making of it.