The following is an address I gave at MCC Toronto’s annual AIDS Vigil of Hope.
My name is Chris Hobbs and I am HIV+. When I was first asked to speak tonight, I almost declined, because my immediate reaction was that I haven’t suffered enough – I have no right to speak for those who suffer daily with this illness. Then I realized that there ARE others like me out there that must feel the same as I do.
This is my story. I was first diagnosed as HIV+ in 1985. At that time I just assumed that I would be dead within the year. I did not know anyone who was living with AIDS and media hype was high regarding this disease.
A good friend was diagnosed about the same time so we supported each other over many long talks about how this was going to impact on our very short future. I went through the inevitable “Oh no – is this a pimple on my neck or a tumor” phase of constant self-examination, and thought what a lot of living I had yet to cram into my remaining time. But I was able to remain positive throughout and never stopped making plans or acting like there was no tomorrow.
In the next few years, people I knew started to get sick and die – someone would say, “Did you hear about so and so? He died last week.” Then friends started to get sick and the reality of this disease was at my door.
In 1992 I lost four close friends to this disease. X attempted suicide, survived, but later died from complications of AIDS. Y lost his partner to AIDS and committed suicide nine months later, and the friend who had been diagnosed the same time I was became ill and died.
Suddenly, all my gay friends were dead and I felt as if I had no roots in the gay community. I was alone . . . I had the love and support of my family and I had very loving straight friends but I longed to have at least one other gay person I could talk to about what I was feeling and who could identify with those feelings.
I would like to address the issue of survivor guilt. When you are HIV+, seeing friends experience the ravages of AIDS is hard to cope with because all the time you are caregiving, it’s like looking into a mirror – you’re thinking, “That’s what’s going to happen to me soon” – you expect it. When it doesn’t happen, you are filled with guilt; why am I still healthy and my friend is lying here dying? So many times I pleaded with God to take some of my good health and give it to someone I love who is dying – I’ve discovered it doesn’t work that way.
All my life I struggled with issues of self esteem, and to see people sick that I thought were so much more deserving of life than I was tearing me apart. I don’t know why I am different – I don’t know why I have not become ill – and I probably never will know. 1Corinthians, verse 12 says: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” This comforts me greatly.
I was brought to this church on Friendship Sunday and for that I thank God daily, because it was truly a life-changing event for me. It allowed me to renew my relationship with God, to reconnect with other gay people, to rebuild my self-esteem, and obtain a better understanding of my self-worth.
Loving myself was the first step in being able to love and care for others. At last I am able to experience a sense of peace that I thought was unobtainable. The hurting is healing – empty spaces in my life are now being filled. I have new purpose. Hebrews 11, verse 1 says; “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hope is something I believe in, and coupled with faith, I am able to move forward in my life.
Together, I and my family of friends will continue to support, love and care for each other. Together, we can face our challenges, share our joys, and experience a sense of peace – peace which I have found in my relationship with God. I am living proof that “adversity produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…”