While I was in Zürich, back in Newcastle a friend died, basically of a heart attack.
David H. was one of the old-timers in our HIV patient group – one of the six men (five gay, one straight) who appeared in a meeting room in the middle of Newcastle on June 30, 2003. We spent the summer discussing endless possibilities of activities that we could do; I took a ton of notes, and kept reorganizing them and bringing copies back to the group. We had a facilitator who was slightly useless – it seemed as though we started over each time we met; after six such meetings in three months we said, hey, we'd really like to do something.
So the facilitator went away, and Melinda, head of Clinical Psychology, and the original source of the group, said all right, what are your plans?
So today we have group presentations about the experience of having HIV/AIDS, mostly for medical students and personnel, but sometimes for other people (about a hundred and forty such presentations in a decade); a peer counseling group, originally designed for the newly infected, but which has ultimately been for all sorts of people; a website, as an information source; and various connections to the local HIV charities, as well as to the yearly events on World AIDS Day.
And then there the work that David did. An immensely kind, gentle man, he had managed business finances back when he was still working; so he took on the tasks none of us wanted – meetings with the NHS, discussions of what we wanted in the clinic and the new hospital building, financial planning and organization, and simply paying cab fare for group members who had to get home in the evening – essentially the complex and often tedious demands of an organization that had to interface with a vast bureaucracy.
To me, David always seemed angelic – soft-spoken, never angry or irritated or impatient with anyone. There were a few other sides that appeared at his memorial service – a rather British-eccentric tendency to wear brightly colored socks, and a photograph of him teasing one of the women in Body Positive, the main AIDS charity in the Northeast, with an equally brightly colored scarf. And there was an old picture of him, probably in his thirties or early forties – a classic gay man picture, dark hair, mustache, plaid shirt – unexpectedly handsome, clearly reserved.
David had become seriously ill several times in the last three or four years – failing HIV medications meant he had to take the toxic antiviral that they inject at the hospital (I forget what it's called – it starts with an 'f' as I recall, and it's something I hope I'll never have to take), and he had definitely declined lately. He is the third to die of the 'core' group, and the first of those initial six people; Steve P. died last winter and his death was much more widely noticed, because Steve was engaged with more public events. Steve's picture was carried in front of the Gay Pride Parade last week, in fact.
That would never happen with David; he was shier, more reserved, but he did an immense amount of quiet, background work to take care of people. Towards the end of Friday's memorial, which brought about ten people into a small meeting room in the city library, they played a pop cover of 'Nessun dorma' – all of that glory, all of that reaching, is a powerful way of connecting to people's deeper passions in a memorial.
But during it I was thinking of the old Jewish/Middle Eastern legends of the thirty-six 'secret' good people who live on the planet – hidden, unlike the thirty-six 'revealed' saints: no one knows who the secret ones are, and they don't know themselves: but they are always there in every generation, honest and pure in heart.
And, as long as they are on earth, we are all kept safe.