It was the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, one of the most gruesome battles of the Civil War. We were the first spectators to arrive. The busy street had been blocked off for hours, as a small handful of volunteers placed a candle in a white paper bag for each of the nearly ten thousand soldiers that lost their lives during that fateful day of November 30th, 1864.
We walked slowly down the rows and rows of white bags that stretched out of sight, and down the street. Perhaps it was the combination of gray clouds, misty rain, and the fact that history becomes decidedly more important to me when I am walking along with two little people who represent the future. But I was struck by the magnitude of such a display. I was sobered by a visual of what "ten thousand" looked like.
I began to consider what it must have felt like to be there. Both sides fighting, moved onward by a sense of purpose and conviction that was worth overcoming fear and entering even unto death. Have I ever experienced or even witnessed two passionately opposing forces at the climax of purpose? Have I ever felt the weight of the kind of upholding of a belief that springs from the core of their souls or the urgency to protect something that rests as the very foundation of humanity? I have never been to war. I have appreciated it's brutal power, and have even hovered around the ripple effects of it's deadly sting, as friends have dealt with the loss of loved ones. But I was humbled by the view in front, and all around me as I walked, and counted and imagined the faces and stories of each of those soldiers. It is regretable that the story of American History must hold the Civil War in it's pages.
Today is another day to remember. There is another battle that our streets are not lengthy nor wide enough to hold the number of luminaries to represent all that have fallen during the fight. It is the fight against HIV/AIDS. And today, I remember the hands of men that I have held while doing my best to comfort them in their dying hours. I remember the stories of hopelessness, of fear, of despair that blanketed the air of entire communities like the gray clouds of November in Franklin, TN.
But there is so much risk in thinking about too many stories at once. Without a way to visualize millions of faces, I am reminded that AIDS is a disease that kills one person at a time. It is a disease that destroys the body, one blood cell at a time. It destroys families one person at a time. It creates a void, a deep emptiness where hope and health should be, one story at a time. And so today, I am thinking about how I can help one person. How I can love and act, and advocate on behalf of one person. And in the midst of this great and challenging fight, we may one day realize that we have the opportunity to not be able to visualize the millions of stories that have regained their threads of hope, and sustained their health.
Can you think of a person? Can you put yourself in the place of someone wrestling with HIV/AIDS? Do you wonder what their fears might be? Do you wonder what their families might be going through? Do you consider the moment that they have to bring the news of their illness to their family? Is there room in your heart, in my heart to feel what they feel?
Today is World AIDS Day. To most of us, it is just another day. What would it take for us to remember there is no such thing as "Just another day." And what would it look like to do our best to ensure that those wrestling on this day under the weight of this disease can make it to the next?
It is in our hands. It is our ideas, our passion, our willingness to learn, to fail, to search, to love, and to fight that will bring forth the ideas and the designs to beat HIV/AIDS.
It is my hope that we will continue to feel the urgency of this great need. It is my desire that we will continue to open our hearts to the stories of people all around the world that suffer.
I believe that God has given us this great privilege to be a part this great act of healing. Please join us in praying, in knowing, in loving, and in serving.
And maybe we can one day celebrate by saying, "Happy World AIDS Day!"
Peace to you - Dan Haseltine