Saturday, January 15, 2005

And the Band Still Plays On...

Thanks to my friends at the Garfield Park Conservatory, I am now a devoted fan of Pompei's Pizza, near Taylor & Ashland right near the UIC campus. The tomato-&-basil pizza with garlic and sausage is one of my all-time favorites. So Thursday night, I brought one home to share with roommate Tim and his girlfriend Jean, who is visiting from Virgina for the week. The goal was to introduce them to the pizza, and then share with them a movie I'd wanted Jean to see for a while.

The pizza met with mixed reviews - Jean proclaimed it the closest she'd had to NY-style pizza outside the Five Boroughs, but Tim seemed under-enthusiastic. Which was too bad for him, but great for me (as it left plenty of left-overs for dinner tonight!). There had to be about 20 cloves of garlic minced onto the pizza - primo stuff. And aromatic - even through my stuffy sniffer, it was great.

Before Jean developed her current passion for early American history (she's pursuing a PhD in it) she was fascinated by immuno-biology, and actually fancied a career with the CDC for a bit. That's why I wanted her to see And The Band Played On, an extraordinary HBO made-for-TV movie about the start of the AIDS epidemic (one that I also believe should be required viewing for anyone under the age of 30!). Click on the link to read the reviews - and then rent it/buy it/see it.

Throughout the video, date/place stamps show up...together with "the butcher's bill," the dead-and-dying count for the time. At one point, in 1985, there were 8,300-odd cases, and 6,400 deaths - an unbelievable 75% mortality rate. But in the final minutes of the movie (whose timeline ends in 1986, but which first aired in 1993) the statistics-up- to-that-date showed nearly 400,000 people infected with HIV, and 194,000 US deaths from AIDS. Not world-wide...just the US. Us. Right here.

That rocked me back a bit - believe me.

Eleven years ago, more people had died of AIDS than have been killed in the greatest natural disaster in our century. Today, between 850-950,000 people in the US alone are living with HIV - and 525,000 US deaths attributed to AIDS. That's ten times more than the number of casualties in the entire freaking Vietnam war, people. How is it that no one at WorldVision is lining up volunteers and contributors in front of the CDC headquarters to help out in the battle against this slaughter, do you suppose?...

Sadly, what one clinical pathologist told me 15 years ago still holds true: "It's hard for the research community (let alone the government) to find much desire to cure a disease that primarily kills homosexuals and drug addicts." Of course, it's not exclusively gays and addicts, any more - almost 5,400 children under 13 have died from AIDS, too. But far too many people consider the deaths of those innocents nothing more than "collateral damage"...

What is also sad is that the followers of Jesus - both God and human, who was always the advocate for "the least of these" - are often the first ones to race around the world to help people out - but the ones most silent in the HIV/AIDS crisis. Tomorrow there will be a "Clergy Leadership Summit for HIV/AIDS Community Outreach," hosted by McCormick Theological Seminary, our Presbyterian sisters-and-brothers-across-the-quad. I won't be able to attend - but I'm kind of curious about who will attend, and what will be proposed. I've gotta congratulate the McCormick folks; this kind of session is a long, long time overdue.

I'm not saying the crisis in Asia isn't real, or tragic. I'm just saying that the AIDS epidemic was real, AND tragic - ten years ago. The relief worker in Asia and the AIDS researcher in Atlanta and San Francisco all say the same thing: "The need is great; the situation desperate; and way too many people are on the brink of destruction."

What will your reply be?


Steve Bogner said...

Steve - That sounds like some good pizza... wish they had a branch here in Cincinnati!

I appreciate your reflection on how people respond to tragedies. HIV/AIDS certainly has taken many lives. But it hasn't happened in a dramatic one-time event that can be taped via camcorder and broadcast around the world, over and over and over.

When one looks at the global impact of HIV/AIDS, the suffering and impact are simply tremendous. We're talking millions of people being affected by this disease. But I think we in the US, and maybe in the 'developed world' in general, are somewhat desensitized to it.

Natural disasters are sold to us by the media, and we are used to it. They are big events because of their fantastic nature. They are easily sold. Less easily sold are things like the impact of HIV/AIDS, ethnic cleansing in Sudan, and the child sex slave trade in southeast Asia. But the suffering, and the need, is just as real. And I know there are good people working in these areas, but that sort of on-the-ground compassionate work doesn't get much press.

Poor Mad Peter said...

Timely words, Steve. Lately, I've been musing on another gaping hole in Christian consciousness: our environment. From what i can tell, there is a near-total absence of Christians, especially conservative Christians, in the environmental movement.

And I think these two absences--AIDS and the environment--are related spiritually. More later.

Nick said...

Aside from leagal political battles, how about the death tolls of abortion. I believe its over 30,000,000 in the U.S. alone since Roe v. Wade. Some choice huh?

Anonymous said...

Still finding it necessary to garlic-coat the truth?

Yes, we respond to the sensational trajedy more so than the human trajedy. I presume the question would be, are we being helpful at all?

Some forty years ago, I was told, "when the privileged decide to help the disenfranchised, Watch Out!" It's taken some years to see the place of this truth among the Laws of Thermodynamics.

"The need is great; the situation desperate; and way too many people are on the brink of destruction." Somehow until this truth penetrates me personally, am I not a creator of confusion rather than harmony?

- Wes