I know because I just went to Starbucks where all the baristas were wearing red aprons and where five cents of every purchase went to help people around the world living with HIV/AIDS.
I was a little embarrassed that it took Starbucks to remind me. For years in Washington I participated in the annual AIDS Walk. Our church would put together a team of walkers, and together raise as much money as we could to help the Whitman-Walker Clinic. We would all walk together, enjoying the camaraderie and the feeling that we were doing something to help. One year I raised over a thousand dollars and earned a snazzy fleece vest. Another year I ran the course early because I had to catch a flight later that morning. But the year I remember best is the one where they asked me to write down the name of the person I was walking for.
I can’t mention his name here, but he was a member of one of my churches who had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion years earlier. He was a happily married man—a father and grandfather—and the thought of dying of AIDS terrified him. He didn’t want anyone else to know about it, but he talked to me confidentially and—very confidentially—we made some tentative plans for his funeral.
That was back in the day when AIDS almost always led to death. These days things are better. Being HIV Positive is not necessarily a death sentence. Thanks to fund-raising efforts like the AIDS Walk and what Starbucks is doing today, people can live with AIDS almost indefinitely. It’s not cheap, but it can be done, and because it can my former church member can rest a little easier.
Of course we haven’t solved the problem. AIDS continues to ravage the continent of Africa, where there are millions of deaths each year and millions of children who have been orphaned. I remember the Sunday in DC when I visited with an articulate young man from Nigeria who eventually admitted that he was one of those people—an AIDS orphan. He showed me the statistics and they were heartbreaking. A million orphans in his country alone, with millions of others across the continent.
So, I’m embarrassed that it took a trip to Starbucks to remind me that today is World AIDS Day. I should have known that when I woke up this morning. It should have gone off in my head like an alarm clock, accompanied by the picture of that young man’s face, and my friend and former church member, and all those people who live in the shadow of this devastating disease.
Please don’t let me forget it again.