I first met Mary Fisher in September of 1994. I knew who she was -- I had watched the 1992 Republican National Convention telecast, when she announced to the world that she had HIV. She had just published her first book, "Sleep With The Angels", but I was hardly prepared when I met this lovely lady for the first time.
By the time I met her, I had lived with full-blown AIDS for almost 7 years; I had two AIDS buddies assigned to me through the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Northern Virginia, and they had been nominated for one of the national awards to be given out that year, by the Family AIDS Network (FAN). Mary Fisher founded this network to help recognize on a national scale the contributions of often unsung heroes, the caregivers of patients like me. Janice and Rishi Rice-Boothe were the recipients of one of only 7 awards given, and I was at the FAN office to see them receive it.
Mary's presence was immediately assuring, full of love and sincerity. It was an austere ceremony, at which she gave me an autographed copy of that book. The inscription stays with me, just as the memory of meeting her: "To Jim, With Much love -- Soul to soul and heart to heart. Love, Mary Fisher." In 1995, she published another book, "I'll Not Go Quietly", and I kept up with her by word of mouth and through friends -- always knowing that she was busier than anyone should have to be.
At a signing for her third book, "My Name Is Mary", I just showed up. She promptly invited me to sit with her, to answer any questions which visitors might have. I was honored to sit with this icon of love, whose presence towers far above her height. By now, I had come to know her as a recognized artist, photographer and writer; but, her affability and ease was charming.
In June of this year, the four of us were asked if we would allow Mary to interview us for her new book, "Angels In Our Midst"; we quickly agreed and it was set for June 10. My roommate, Clayton (also HIV and their buddy), Janice and Rishi and I anxiously awaited her arrival at my home.
The moment Mary came in the door, there was an air of love which permeated the house. We laughed and chatted while she decided how this interview would go. Even with the recorder, to which we agreed, it developed into a family visit, with us simply being ourselves, talking and playing a board game, enjoying each others' company. The photographers melted into the background, laughing at some of the spontaneous responses. We chatted about how we had become soulmates with our buddies, how we relied upon each other for support and comfort -- how four people had become a family and how easily Mary fell into that family.
What was to be an interview was, from the beginning, a gathering of like minds, of love and sharing and caring. Nothing is expected, whatever is needed is shared, within human possibilities. The pervading feeling was that Mary was one of us, a fragile yet stalwart fighter in this battle against HIV -- a survivor, like us. And, a part of our family.
We talked, shared, posed for photographs, all with the feeling that this was a record in the making of compassion, love and sharing. A hug from Mary goes a long way, because she has so much to give -- and, so many to whom to give. Her vulnerability is disarming; yet, with all the ravages of HIV she has endured, she continues to radiate an ability to give more.
Was it an interview? I suppose you could call it that. I call it a wonderful family gathering, which happens less frequently than I'd like. There was no formality, no pressure, no feeling of stiffness; just a flood of warm feeling, the likes of which most of us never see.
I did not know the title of the book to
be published, or even if we were to be a part of it. I found out later
that we would be included, and that the title was to be "Angels In Our
Midst". It is aptly titled, because Janice and Rishi are definitely angels
in my view. But, as so frequently happens, the author writes about others,
as has Mary. But Mary is decidedly an angel in our midst, too.
Jim Patteson is a PLWA (Person Living With AIDS), a father and grandfather who was diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in February, 1988. He holds degrees in Psychology, Sociology and Law, and has been active in AIDS volunteerism and education for over 15 years. Jim currently volunteers full time as Area Coordinator of the AIDS/HIV Area in the Alternative Medical Forum on America OnLine, as AltM Shux. (Email: AltM Shux@aol.com)
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