World AIDS Day 09

Angels Among Us

On Tuesday, I stepped out after dark to attend the annual candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day. Usually there’s a vigil here in Greenville, and I found one on the ECU campus. It was a small affair, compared to my first World AIDS Day back in 1992.

I was the junior reporter (even at my ripe old age of 31, thanks to my winding career path). So I was given the catch-all assignments. Weekend cops, Elvis postage stamp.

World AIDS Day.

It was freezing and I was running late, and got to the march, where I was met by a joyful, laughing crowd of young men and women. We walked to the Town Common, where we stood around during remarks.

It grew colder every minute and I was trying hard to write, and interview people, and do all the things a hustling reporter should. I was about to crack with the strain of the cold, numb hands, the big crowd, not really knowing what World AIDS Day was or what I would write about it.

A quite attractive young man drew near and allowed me to warm my hands on his candle. He spoke in gentle phrases and seemed to have a glow.

Soon he was walking to the center of the crowd, introducing himself as a person with AIDS. I almost cried at his story. After contracting the disease (which he openly admitted came by not having safe sex), he was spending his final months speaking at schools and to any group that invited him.

This charismatic young man told his story again and again. He was dear and open and nonjudgmental, and I’m sure those young people felt the immediate bond that I did with him. He was inherently likeable.

His name was David Waggoner.

When I found out a couple of years later that he died, I wrote a column about him. His kindness in standing there with a candle while I warmed my hands, his candor about his disease.

Every year on Dec. 1, I remember David, just as I did on Tuesday. If there is an afterlife of some kind, whether in heaven, or through reincarnation, I know David is in a special place of honor. He spoke out about AIDS to rob it of stigma; he gave me a warm human face in place of a fearful acronym.

He no doubt helped hundreds of young people understand that they didn’t need to feel ashamed for anything, for any reason — because we are all the same, human beings, in a big confusing world and we need each other. That it doesn’t matter if we have red or black hair, different skin shades or some kind of disease; and it certainly doesn’t matter who we love.

That was his message to me, and now mine to the world.

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