There was a hospital bed, and in that bed was a man who was very thin and very sick. In fact, he was dying. However he had looked when he was in good health was difficult to guess; his cheeks were sunken, his upper body wasted away. His eyes, dark and wandering, were pinpricks of light, like those of birds.
He had AIDs, and he was dying. My health class sat indifferently at their desks, listless in the heat. The windows had been cracked to alleviate some of the stuffiness, and a fan was blowing, and on the TV screen a man was dying and why was I the only one who was trying to not burst into tears?
I was fifteen.
I still think about that man all the time.
I still think about the man who asked me to hold something for him in the store, because he was undergoing chemo and his hands would shake, and it was difficult to carry things.
I still think about the trans woman, who was stripped and beaten by a mob of men and carried off to die. Someone took pictures of her.
I wish I hadn’t looked, and now I can’t stop looking. I can’t stop seeing any of the people I have witnessed hurt, and lost. They play over and over in my mind.
When you have a soft heart and a very long memory, your heart gets broken by life many, many times. I hated it; I felt as flimsy as willow branches. I felt pathetic.
It was years before I understood the incredible blessing I had been given. I was not some fragile thing. In fact, my heart was so strong that it was able to mourn throughout the years of my life. I was able to take this sadness and allow it to stir me into someone passionate, compassionate, and brave.
Yes, I still cry when I think of the ones I carry with me; I still feel pain. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. But I see now, that when I hold these people in me, it is not weakness that keeps them there.
It’s the incredible love I have for others, the desire to honor their memories and their humanity in my heart.