26 September 2001

Powerful Birthdays

26 September 2001

November 22 is my mother's birthday.  She was 22 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated.  That event transformed the day of her birth so that it would always be associated with a terrible act.  Every year as we approached her birthday I would notice the Kennedy retrospectives on television and the whole terrible event would be rehashed to my annoyance.  I was not born until 5 years after his death so it was all ancient history to me by the time I was old enough to notice.

The first public tragedy I remember was the mass suicide/killings at the Jones compound in Guyana.  I don't remember the exact year but I do remember reading everything I could find about cults.  I remember trying to understand how such a horrible thing could happen.  I remember asking my parents to explain and finding out, for the first time, that they could not.  That there was no rational explanation for evil of that magnitude. 

I write letters for Amnesty International on behalf of prisoners of conscience.  In the September letters I learned about a woman and her two-year-old son who were arrested as a result of the woman's political activities.  She and her son were tortured and held by the authorities.  This happened two years ago and the letters are an attempt to get the government to investigate and punish the people involved and to secure reparations for the harm done to the woman and her son.

One of my friends is HIV positive.  The available medications have worked very well so far but they are not a cure.  The drugs have both short- and long-term side effects and once they stop working he will die unless a cure has been found by then.  He is one person who I love and who I want to live to see my two-year-old son grow into an adult.  Every day he lives is a gift and every day we don't work for a cure is a waste.

Each day, each person chooses good or evil.  We choose to spend resources on life or death.  We decide, as a society, whose life is valuable and whose life is expendable.  I still hear rumblings from the so-called-Christian right that HIV is a plague brought by god and that those that have it deserve to die.  No one deserves to die.  No one should have the right to take away someone's life.  Without life there is no hope of repentance, forgiveness, or change.

I hear of preparations for a long war against terrorism and I think about all the people in Africa dying untreated of AIDS.  I think of people in the United States beaten to death because they are the wrong skin color/gender/sexual orientation.  Where is the massive response for these victims?  Where is the 40 billion dollars for food and medicine for the poor, for decent housing, and for support for the mentally ill?  Why does our world culture keep turning to death to try to bring back life?

September 11 is my father's birthday.  He turned 61 this year.  Just like my mother's birthday 38 years ago, his birthday was overshadowed by the horrible choices made by others.  I love my father more than I can express in words. I am glad of the day of his birth and all the good he has done in the world.  His love has made the world a better place.

Horrible things are being done on your birthday by people who have turned away from love.  People who look at their fellow humans and see objects that they can use or destroy.  We cannot force them to see our humanity.  But we can make our own choice not to follow them down their dark and lonely path.

Take back your birthday.  Live and love every day.