1994 Speaking Engagement for AIDS Awareness Day

December 1, 1994

“AIDS and the Family” was the theme for World AIDS Awareness Day in 1994. I was planning to attend a community church event because a mentor-friend was speaking that night. As typical with plans however . . . things changed. The day before the event my friend’s sister called in a panic pleading with me to fill the spot because mentor-friend had a horrible case of strep throat.

For some, this might not be a big deal. For me, it was terrifying.
  • I was/am NOT a public speaker

  • I was emotionally attached to the issue because a friend of mine was HIV positive

  • I would be exposing a part of my spiritual life to the community that I hadn’t yet openly shared

  • As an empath I wasn’t sure how the emotions of the families would affect me

  • Being a big girl, I didn’t know what to wear.

I had plenty of excuses – reasons – justification for saying, “no” but “yes” is what came out of my mouth.

I chose not to tell anyone except my Mom that I was speaking at the event. She immediately said, “I’ll drive ya there!” (I love you Mom!) This night of December first was extremely dark and bitter cold. I wore a simple yet elegant long black sleeveless dress with a beautiful black burnout blouse over it to somewhat disguise my arms and belly. I know my “looks” were insignificant but I wanted to represent my community well and honor the families with dignity which required a level of . . . professionalism in my attire.

Mom and I walked into the church only to find a young couple shivering in the vestibule who were seeking gas money as they traveled from Arizona to where we were in Long Beach, California. They were living in their car as their lives were in a challenging transition. Mom didn’t skip a beat – she reached into her purse and handed them a couple twenties saying, “This should cover the gas, but do you need money for food?" My heart swelled with love for Mom and her unwavering generosity and open spirit.

I was still in the glow of Mom when I entered the nave and was physically impacted by the emotions and love I felt. This sacred space was filled with beautiful AIDS Memorial Quilts – each one telling a story – each one sharing the hearts of those who had lost loved ones to AIDS.

The speakers for the evening were a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Priest, a Hindu Pujari, a Christian Clergy, and me – a Druidic Priestess in training. The event was to consist of the speakers standing in a row across the stage/chancel. The lights were slowly dimmed until the church stood in darkness. A serene female voice asked a question, and then a spotlight shined upon a spiritual leader to respond to the question posed. The lights dimmed again and in the darkness another question was asked, and the next speaker responded.

One by one – the church darkened – the question asked – the spotlight shined – the speaker shared. The scene was so simple – elegant – respectful – touching. I, however, was terrified. My nervousness, inexperience, and insecurities were obvious from my sweaty hands, shaky legs, and flushed skin. I felt inadequate to represent the spiritual views of a nature-based belief in the presence of these well-respected spiritual leaders from the various cultures within our community.

I was comforted by my notes in hand which I clung to as if they were capable of holding me upright on the stage. The irony is that these notes which were bringing me comfort were also making me feel like an imposter because not a single one of the other speakers had notes. They spoke from their hearts and shared their knowledge with vibrancy and confidence. When each spoke, I felt them – I sensed their connection with the words they shared and the strength of their passion, conviction, and love. I could feel the warmth coming from the families as they held onto the comfort provided by the speakers stories and the community surrounding them.

The church darkened and the voice asked, “What does a pagan experience when they die?” The spotlight shined down upon me. I glanced at the notes in my hand – but – wait – what just happened? My notes were blurred by the light – I couldn’t see a thing – the words I was to speak had abandoned me.

I took a breath – looked into the dark to where I thought Mom was sitting – and I spoke from the heart. I felt myself as the person on the stage speaking while also a little piece of me was observing this as it if was happening to someone else. The voice I heard coming from my own mouth was calm and almost lyrical.

Afterwards, many came up to thank me for my words, share a hug, ask me questions, and tell me the memories of ones they had lost to AIDS. Each of the spiritual leaders held my hand and thanked me for being there. Mom called me a goddess and told me how proud she was of me. I have NO IDEA what I actually said, but it wasn’t about the reality of the words. It was about being there. It was about supporting and loving others. It was about my friend who was HIV positive. It was about putting aside the ego, the fear, and the petty stuff like what to wear so we could be in that moment of connection.

#AIDS #naturereligion #diversecommunity

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