Tuesday, August 15, 2006

CHINESE NEW YEAR ( An AIDS Tale Retold )



[[ This is actually a Tale about AIDS and Hope....it was orginally posted for Chinese New Year 1-29-06. I was an AIDS Nurse for many years in Seattle Washington. I am reposting it to Honor The International AIDS Conference in Toronto this week.]]



So tonight it is Chinese New Year. Some folks start celebrating it at Sundown and some at Midnight. It is the Year of the Dog, the Fire Dog. The Dog in the Chinese Horoscope represents Loyalty, Everlasting Friendship and Infinite Courage and Mighty Fortitude, and Hidden Strength. It also is true in Chinese History , especially in the years of the Fire Dog, represent Much Change and Upheaval. I say this with great optimism for Change in the year to come. On the West Coast some resturants have big parties and banquets and Celebrations. There is much wonderful food, music and Fireworks. Some resturants have one night for the public and one night for the resturante families. It can be festive and jubilant, and truly welcoming, or a more traditional quiet holiday. And for some it is a time to resolve rifts and wayward relations, and for others it is a time of Reunion, and even Thankfulness.

I originally started celebrating this many years ago, and for me it is a quiet reflective time. Some celebrate it with gusto and great enthusiasm. Some celebrate it and welcome it with huge gatherings of food and family and friends. It was never like that for me, a time to gather , take stock, review and honor the past and those that are gone. It is quiet and full of solitude.I clean like crazy for a week, I re-organize, tidy even the closets that are best left dark and dusty. I scrub the front door and make Red banners with Caligraphy ( Japanese or Chinese), that have warm thoughts of peace, prosperity, and inspiration ( Couplets). And my son loves that no one but us really knows WHAT they say. ( When he was little he used to call them the Secret Banners).

There are fresh flowers, lotus and irises, and sometimes Lillies. And since Rob was little I have fixed the traditional Long Egg Noodles symbolizing long life. And all kinds of tea. And Red Envelopes, with good wishes and trinkets, chocolates, and nuts. ( and of course the Neatly pressed Money and polished coins) ALL to bring good luck. And the Dim Sun ( Sweets) puchased from some little Chinese eatery as well as Fortune Cookies. I would wear Songbird Colors, and put lotus candles in the bath water. And even when many holidays were havoced in my life, this holiday I always loved and cherished, and it's simplest of rituals made me whole again.It was so heartwarming to believe that WE Create Our Luck. And at Midnight I would burn 9 sticks of incense with tenderness , remember those that have gone and honor Who and What they were. It was a simple holiday that held Hope. Always.

I worked as an AIDS nurse in Seattle in the late 1980's and one of my favorite patients Rick, became a friend. He was a talented artist, this friend that taught me about Buddhism and how to find my way with it. He was an artist and a poet that had worked and taught Art and English in Asia. I first took care of his partner Steve in 1988-1990, and as I taught him the finer graces of nursing to care for his partner, he taught me so much more. He taught me intricacies of Life even when dying. His partner was nauseous alot, so Rick would spend hours figuring out what SMELL made him feel better ( S'MORE's fresh in the microwave and vanilla mint icecream on the bedside table were some of the best Comfort results). He taught me how to make "Russian Tea" ( Which is Tang and Iced tea powder mixed and served steamy and hot, a heavenly concoction). He explained that a part of Buddhism is science and reading, and putting those into action and having faith that the Universe would help the Healing. I liked how he explained it and that it was not a matter of "Leaving it up to God". ( Who personally I felt had failed miserably).

Rick would sit by Steve's bed and read to him from the I Ching, and chinese poetry, and from Confuscious, and Teachings of Buddha. He had rituals where he would serve tea and tangerines. He put ginger in the tea.He consulted a Feng Shui expert and they reviewed the horoscopes and rearranged furniture and brought in different colors to help Steve's comfort , and amazingly it all helped. And Rick would smile and gently leave books out for me about the Feng Shui, Chinese Horoscopes, and "The Barefoot Doctor". He was the first to explain to me that I was a Rat, according to the horoscope.. ( After the initial whiff of Insult , I learned quickly that Rats are Special, trustworthy, resourceful, take good care of their community, and have courage. So I decided to embrace this little part of me, and cherish what I could strive for.)

I took care of AIDS patients in Seattle 1988-1998, and this was quite a feat, for a good part of those years I lived on Capital Hill near many of my patients and my neighbors. And yes, as many of my neighbors became my patients there are also were lessons to learn about boundaries that became blurry and soft. I did homecare and also worked at a lovely little hospice that was called Rosehedge. ( and still worked other shifts on the side , including ER and PEDS). ( I had this grand idea that if I could just work alot of different areas- I would never burn out as a nurse).

Steve died first in 1990 and in less than two years I got a call that Rick was very sick. And by then we were stll friends, but I took a job at a nursing agency that I knew would take good care of Rick. Rick was shocked to realize that he had AIDS and that he had CMV retinitis.( He had been HIV postive for almost 8 years when he went into AIDS, he took amazing care of himself, even while caring for Steve. ). He called me and said:
" I can't believe this, I am losing vision every day. It is so odd, it is like the colors are being washed from the sky. You think living in Seattle where it is so grey and rainey , that makes it worse?"

The saddest part was he was still grieving Steve when he got his own bad news, and it spiraled him into a huge depression. He gave up painting- totally. So I would go see him, and so would his friends, and we would all try to figure out what to do. I finally took the Phone number list off his frig and organized a Plan. I called Everyone, all his friends and neighbors, his "Care Chain". I set a a huge old Value Village Bowl on his front Hall table,called it the" Blessing bowl", and we all started leaving goodies in the bowl, to help him heal, to help him paint. Handmade playdough beads from my son,silvery gum wrappers, String, a birds nest, copper wire found in the Alley, cards and even tangerines and fig newtons and fortune cookies. And day by day he could not pass the bowl and not be tempted by what gifts were there. And slowly after many monthes, I arrived one day to find him painting with his head bent close and putting wire and beads on the canvas, and he said.
" I can't really see clearly, but I can feel the texture, and mostly I can FEEL Again" he lifted his head, and through the paint and glue and woven into his hair and face, I could see a wide infectious smile. And for the next few monthes I would always make him my last stop of the day. We would paint and weave, make paper with a dilapitated blender, and laugh and listen to music. And yes in many ways , I think that it was Grand Conspiracy that his friends and I pulled off. We were able to get Rick to paint again.

If you come to my apartment, I have many of Rick's greatest paintings.
I have packed them over and over on my precarious journey.
( and even ones we painted together, that I know in my heart are priceless)
I look at Them and they are not Just Art :

They are laughter at glue spilled on ugly old linoleum,
They are coconut shavings and melon seeds stuck on my clogs,
They are the the 1962 Hamilton Blender that vomited home-made paper on his kitchen ceiling,
They are homemade Minestrone Soup and Opera on Fridays,
They are the 16lb. bowling ball that "fell" out of the 3rd floor window.
They are courage against angst,
They are watching Willow 26 times,
They are Winter in Seattle, without the Grey.
They are Chili Cookoffs and "Friends& Sienfeld".
They are sandalwood Incense and tangerines,
They are Light in the Darkest of Darkest Shadows,
They are Chinese New Year...and Eternal Hope.

38 comments:

Yukkione said...

Wow, what a great story E4e. I wish those that preached the "culture of Life" actually practiced it as you have illustrated.

enigma4ever said...

Hey there Florida friend you are up late ?..or is it early??...hmm, I like your perspective...and yeah, I am lucky that I have had some amazing people in my life...real life...( not "culture" of life idiots- and I assume that you mean like the Feed Terri Spoon Girls ? ( You know I don't get those fools- one day they are out supporting some poor inmate's demise..)...they make NO sense...lovely of you to stop by...

Dada said...

Wow! What can I say? I'm blown away, e4e. Thanks so very much for sharing an incredible story. I'm taking a copy (not the link--a full copy), and putting it in an e-mail to a special friend who has two brothers, both gay, a son in the Marines just back last fall from Iraq (awaiting his 7 month rotation to one-can-only-guess where. Emitting light--as she often does--in the darkest of dark shadows, your story will amplify the light in her corner for a time. It's very obvious there was a lot of heart put into that story, seasoned with a few tears as well. Thank you so much. Happy New Year!

Granny said...

I just wrote a long comment and lost it which means I was talking too much.

Happy Chinese New Year.

I have a gay 33 year old son and lived in San Francisco from the first AIDS cases in the early 80's until the early nineties. I lost many friends.

Beautiful post. I wrote about my son last night on isamericaburning. Not about AIDS, he's been fortunate, but about hatred.

Take care

Richard said...

Enigma,

What a wonderful post. You're an example and inspiration to all.

Oh, and "Kung hey fat choi !" :^)

Unknown said...

Fantastic post E4E. I would like to see the works of art some time. Can you take some pics and post em?

Blog on.

enigma4ever said...

A NOTE TO THE POSSE:
Blogger Comments are really acting odd, I have tried to leave a comment here twice ( so Granny it was not you writing too much) If this continues please go ahead and email me at enigma4ever@earthlink.net.

DADA: Thank you for your comments, and you may send my writings anywhere you want, anywhere that they can be a gift. I may gripe,groan,and curse here at the Cafe, but I do alos try to send out just a little light and some hope.New Years wishes to you and the missus and to the greyhound beauties....

GRANNY:Sorry about the Comment problem I will email Blogger tonight. Also many hugs that you lost friends down in SF, many migrated up to Seattle too. And I will head over and read about your son and battles with hatred. Under this living-stinking-brathing regime we all need to pay close attention and do what we can.

RICHARD: You say the darnest things, you make me blush, I don't know if I am much of an example- but I do try to inspire Change and maybe give back a little of what has been given to me. People are the greatest Gift....Gong Xi Fa Cai.

enigma4ever said...

WINDSPIKE: Thanks for coming by, and oh, now that is a good idea, Pictures of the Pictures..I love it. I will speak with the Art Director- Mr6'4' later today and see what we can do...

Unknown said...

Very nice girlfriend..I am the dragon fire sign..happy new year :)d

enigma4ever said...

Hi there Dusty- I have great repect for Dragons, they are very Brave, outspoken, creative and talented. They also are known for trailblazing and creating Change.....And if you are indeed a Fire Dragon, that means that you are creative in even the most challenging situations, and a Star...The humble metal rat of the Enigma Cafe honors your presence here on this properous occassion, because being that you are a Fire Dragon- you should be out with large gatherings and at a party and jubilant parade...Happy New Year...

Neil Shakespeare said...

Happy New Year!

Justin said...

As usual, after reading your post I can't think of anything to say (i.e. you leave me speechless). So I'll repeat Neil and say "Happy New Year!" and keep up the great blgging.

Also I saw Crash last night and if you haven't seen it. It is definitely worth the time and money.

michael the tubthumper said...

great story - and happy new year!

in scotland we celebrate new year at the same time as the rest of the western world but the parties don't normally stop till about march.

its our way of dealing with the winter

Anonymous said...

Beautiful ... The year of the Dog represents Courage, Strength, Change. Oh, I like that very, very much. Perfect thoughts for the "new year". D.K.

enigma4ever said...

DK: good to see you....We need Change, and Courage and Strength will bring some in the Year of the Dog.

Micheal: If the This Celebration will ward off the Chill of the Winter even in Scotland, then it should surely even work here on Lake Erie ;-)

Justin: Hmm, I left you speechless, I guess that is not so bad. Thank you for coming by.

Neil: Happy New Year to you too...

michael the tubthumper said...

Sorry for invading your blog with this but here is a chance to do something.

Please take a look at this post at amelopsis garden and lend a hand. There is an amazing old woman who needs your help.


"Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence."
- Henri Frederic Amiel, French philosopher and writer (1821-1881)

I encourage all to click and type a brief message of support for Rosemarie's Jackowski’s human rights and dignity. Wherever you work, whatever you believe, please think about what YOU would want done on your behalf and in your defense if and when it's your turn to displease the power structure. It is not safe, in today's political climate, to assume that YOU will never be the object of political targeting. Please, whether you're in agreement with the politics of this site or not, add your voice to the chorus of support for Rosemarie Jackowski. What's happening to her today could happen to any of us tomorrow.

Lily said...

I just read that story (comment above me) and it really pissed me off. Follow Michael's link if you get a chance.

You have such a loving, caring way about you Enigma, and thank you for sharing the meaning of the 'new year' and your reflections. You are an inspiring spirit.
I know many of us are also reflecting on the state of things generally and our frustration with what things are coming to. I know I feel downright depressed and hopeless and do NOT want to hear shrub talk... thank you for all being part of a necessary and understanding community, it helps us cope I think. It all just feels...bad... the realities are so inescapable.
Enigma I think that we should find a way to at least 'symbolically' turn our backs on what we have become- I suggest we each try to post something, an image, a poem, a word- that shows he does NOT speak in our names. That we DO NOT APPROVE. Assholes with their greedy self serving ways... He has the blood of many children, both present AND future upon his grubby hands...

Anonymous said...

Lilly (above) & Enigma, I too have been thinking about the strong statement of those students turning their backs on Gonzales. It says much more than we don't agree with you, it says you & your comrades are PARIAHS to the rest of us ... we no longer see you or consider you a part of our community ... leave, go somewhere else. Wouldn't it be a great thing if some senators used this method when the Alito cloture vote comes up shortly? Just stand up & turn their backs on Frist & co! Also, tomorrow during the State of the Union when the loud clapping on the right becomes unbearable, for some (if not all) democrat senators just stood up & turned their backs! I would be overcome with pride. D.K.

enigma4ever said...

DK: Thanks for your thoughts...I do know some ahem bloggers that have been sending numberous senators THAT very messege asking respectfully that OUR senators indeed walk out on this facade , this charade of an Administration...as they Abandoned Millions of us long agon on a daily basis....Here at the Enigma Cafe...
We will watch and Heave at the Address, and then afterwards I think I will have to light candles and mourn the loss of Our Country....
And then we will have to continue to FIGHT back....so we will meet and plan and work on plan B...

Lilly- Please do not lose hope..and look at even with minimal time the Fire that Kerry ( yes I know) and Kennedy were able to Inspire and Fan...I take that as Hope....

Micheal : We will have to do what we can to help the Vermont Woman- and to post on her this week- I already started sending to people that can help...

Please also all keep Bob Woodruff and Dan Vogt in your prayers this week...
and

Know this we are Making a Difference and tomorrow night might show us how much...

Anonymous said...

See, I should get out more & not try to reinvent the wheel. I've been emailing Harry Reid since Saturday to just turn his back on Alito. Reminding him to grow some spine for his mother, who made a living doing laundry for the legal bordellos in Searchlight Nevada. Good to know I'm not the only one. D.K.

enigma4ever said...

DK- I promise you that you are not the only one- and good for you on writing to Reid...and yes, 1000's of others have been doing the same thing,,,Keep the Faith...

Scumlito Vote is currently at 57 Yays, and 37 NAYS...

WHO hasn't come forward yet: Bayh, Cantwell, Dorgan,Landreai, Rockefeller , Snowe...that is SIX votes ..which would be above the 41 needed- that would be actually 43..that could work folks...

cruelanimal said...

A lovely post. Moving and inspiring.

I do hope you'll be able to show us some of the paintings on the blog.

enigma4ever said...

Cruel Animal::: I am touched that you as artist appreciated what I was saying- we live in a Loft apt. with 16-18 foot ceilings and really Funky light- we are trying to figure out how to take pcitures of the pictures. Also my digital camera is not acting right- sanyo ( does video and stills)
having trouble loading onto computer, but hopefully this month, next paycheck I will hire a Good Geek to help me with this problem. Because I Know RIck would love to have everyone see his paintings- and why I basically the caretaker of his gallery...but thanks we will make sure to get them up...( and I know that Rick would have been a Blogger ;-)

Tina said...

Happy Chinese New Year Enigma... I'm just not up for celebrating right now. But, around or before Groundhog's Day (Candlemas) I go on a house cleaning spree to get rid of the winter blahs and prepare for the coming Spring thaw. That's what I did this past weekend. Plus it allowed me to actually physically accomplish something since I have done all that I could do in terms of phone calls and faxes to our senators. Of course... they let us all done. And by "all" I am referring to all of America.... sigh...

No Blood for Hubris said...

And the Tibetan New Year, 2133, is yet to come, a mere month away . . .

meldonna said...

My winter housecleaning started back before Christmas -- a necessary thing, that. I am only now starting to really see the fruits of said cleaning, but am starting to see the light at the end of the vaccuum. No worries, tho'. Winter is a good time to clean in Seattle!

I am water Rabbit, and a Pisces to boot. That makes me a fellow rodent, e...and I tend to find myself mellow like the waters, but subject to the occasional Tempest or Torrent; not to mention given, when frustrated, to the Terrible Thump. Cute little bunny, hmmph. Think Belgian giant.

Or that prehistoric rabbit Bugs has been known to morph into. Word.

Nuttiness aside, I salute you for having the Good Work...for most of the '90's, I lived in a predominatly gay apartment complex in Austin, where we watched too many friends fade away before our eyes. Some were artists, some were bartenders, some profesional types, some habitual pains in the butt, and many were my dearest friends. My eyes were opened quickly to the direct relationship between the level of health insurance a person had, and the course of their illness. Mikey, a dear man from Houston, finally succumbed after 15 years of the good fight. Scott, two doors down, was diagnosed positive in Febuary and gone by August. We lost both of them within days of each other.

Guess who had the healthcare insurance?

I look forward to seeing Rick's art.

muchlove,*mel

enigma4ever said...

MEL: Thanks so much for sharing, and yes everything you said is true...and thanks for making me laugh- I have a new image of you , kind of like Bunnicula meets Bugs meets Thumper....I do love the Water Rabbits though...

NBFH: I would love to know more what the Tibetan Year will reveal..

TINA: ( and fuzzy& Blue) I have no idea what ,the Cloture Vote means- I think that it means that they Voted to end Debate and to VOTE on Alito tomorrow- he still has to get 60 to voted in, so if there are 41 I think it still creates a problem- but I don't know much- I am just a nurse...

Anonymous said...

Sadly, no. 60 votes was required for cloture (to end debate & effectively stop filibuster). As we all now know, they got 72. When they vote Tuesday AM, all it will take is a simple majority of 51 to approve Alito. With a heavy heart, all I can say is ... R.I.P. Democrats. D.K.

enigma4ever said...

Thanks DK...well it was a good fight..and I don't understand ...how and why the Democrats can't seem to find their balls.....
Whelp now we can just get through the Address..ughpukeurpvomitheave.....What are we gonna do to get these Fuckers out of power...??????

Fitz..please I am a patient woman....

Stephen McArthur said...

I have sent the cloture supporting Democratic Senators a polite request that they walk off the edge of a cliff. The Republican majority is actually 72 Senators which makes it all the more difficult to win back the Senate this year.

enigma4ever said...

Thank you stephen - they are quite simply Lemmings...and I am a depressed woman today....and as you saw on my inmates post I have nothing nice to say.

enigma4ever said...

REPOSTED AUGUST 15TH FOR THE AIDS CONFERENCE....

Rory Shock said...

so very beautiful enigma

enigma4ever said...

Thanks Rory...The whole time I was watching the BillShow today I kept thinking about Rick and how he would have loved them talking about Sex ( he would have laughed so hard...hearing Bill Gates talk about Man On Man sex I almost fell over..a First) ...I think about the friends that I have lost- and I can't believe that they are gone...

I am trying to get my new Printer to scan the Pictures- I only have one that fits on the Scanner- but I am trying ....
hopefully this weekend...

Peacechick Mary said...

Beautiful story and thank you for letting us live through it with you. It's this kind of sharing of our lives that heals the world.

Lizzie Flynn said...

This is a beautiful story. I'm so glad you reposted it. With everything going on in the world (as well as more personal stuff) this really lifted helped me put things in perspective.

You have a wonderful spirit and I'm happy that you're sharing it with us all.

Anonymous said...

hello ~ i wanted to thank you for sharing your inspiration and story.

all the best and god bless, janina

Sherry Blue Sky said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post - and what a huge warm all-encompassing heart you have! I loved every word of this. Wherever you see a need, there you are - helping. Bless you!