As a postscript to what I posted last week about Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" and to the discussion that posting evoked about the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, it occurs to me to share with you a journal entry I wrote in July 1992. Steve and I were in New Orleans at the time, teaching courses for the Institute for Ministry at our alma mater, Loyola University in New Orleans. Here's what I wrote in my journal:
Bruce died last night at 11 P.M. Steve and I had gone to see him yesterday afternoon and I felt he would die that day: he could barely look at us, keep his eyes open. He weighed about 60 pounds and was jaundiced.
At 9 P.M., I asked Steve to call Lazarus House and see how Bruce was. He got his brother Barry, who said he felt Bruce would die that night, and that he would call us. At 11:15, Barry called to say Bruce had died.
I find it hard to write now. I’m so tired and slept so little last night. But I had an experience on hearing of Bruce's death similar to that I felt (funny how that word recurs: I’m feeling again!) when Simpson died.* It was an experience of the floor dropping away, and I still stood, as on those centrifugal-force carnival rides. I stood—I saw that there is no floor, yet we stand.
It's the paschal mystery. That's all I ever know much about. To meet Bruce 20 years ago; to have our lives intertwined; to be here when he died, as I think he wanted. It's the paschal mystery, and I haven’t a clue what it means. It's just in my life: it is my life; it is in and it is every life.
At a level deeper than I can name, Bruce's death now also becomes all about my own calling and ministry and struggle. Steve and I talked about this last night. These weeks in New Orleans have been incredibly rich, grace-filled ones. I can say that even in the face of a friend's death. C.J. McN. has been unutterably kind, renewing my faith in the Jesuit charism. Bernard L. has, as well. We’ve been wined and dined and fêted, all very quietly, but with great support.
And I don’t know what it means, except that somehow my life belongs . . . not to me, but to a mystery greater than myself, in which I walk, and in which I am connected to, belong to, others. I don’t know how, or how much, but I know that in my theologizing, I do belong to Bruce, Simpson, many pain-filled Others.
*Simpson is my brother who died in 1991. As I've noted a number of times on this blog, my brother died at the age of 39 after years of struggle with severe alcoholism.