Speaking Out

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Fri Jan 1, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

By Sohaila Abdulali

It’s bone-chillingly, gut-wrenchingly, heart-squeezingly sad. A big black hole of despair. That is my New Year message.  

I’m very susceptible to anniversaries and occasions and have always felt a lift of hope and optimism on January 1, despite knowing that it’s all nonsense — the Gregorian calendar is based on something called a Papal Bull; why on earth are we following it? — and nothing is going to change that much in the moments before and after midnight on Dec. 31. Still, it feels like a fresh new page each time. Except this time.

This time there are two firsts. It marks the end of my first year immersed full-time in the world of HIV/AIDS, and it marks the end of my saddest year because the world’s most extraordinary person died. That was my father. Somehow these two things are combined in a chaotic muddle of outrage and sorrow.

I spent many months after joining AIDS-Free World acquainting myself with the facts and figures and numbers and graphs and maps and scales and statistics of AIDS. 25 million, 33 million, ART, MDG, CD4, 3 by 5. There’s so much to learn, so much to write about, so much to change. All the initials and all the meetings and strategies and papers really got my brain buzzing, but I’m ashamed to say my heart was untouched until my own personal loss came along. When it did, it hit me: 25 million people died! Most of them were loved by at least one person, probably many people, whose hearts broke before they should have.

2010 will be a year without my father. That’s just wrong. However, children are supposed to lose their parents, and he didn’t die of a preventable disease. It’s terrible, but part of the natural order of things to lose a parent. None of those other 25 million deaths was natural. I think of my family’s sorrow, multiplied 25 million times, compounded by  helplessness and injustice, and the idea of rending garments, gnashing teeth, and shrieking dementedly is quite appealing.

This week my small shiny daughter and I went to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. It was spectacular, except that when Bert the chimney sweep sang, “Anything can happen if you let it!” I had the sudden urge to stand up and yell, “No, it can’t! You can’t bring back the dead!” But what kind of magical theater experience would that have been for the beaming girl sitting next to me?

25 million people shouldn’t have died and aren’t coming back. I want my father and I can’t have him. Bert was wrong. But even if we can’t undo some things, we must do others. Let’s end injustice, premature sorrow and AIDS in 2010. Enough unnecessary dying. Happy New Year.