FROM HIV TO HAI

By Andrew Marin:

It’s Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. As I’ve done each Tuesday evening for the past four years I’m sitting in the first booth next to the front door at my favorite diner, talking with a man whom I love as a brother.

The diner is in a storefront located in the heart of my neighborhood: a rainbow flagged, sex-shop filled, bar- and club-laced, LGBT inhabited one square mile radius on Chicago’s North Side known as Boystown. Almost 11 years ago I chose, as a straight man, to live here and try to understand what it means to love the way that love was meant to be lived. I did so because of my failings with my three best friends who all ‘came out’ to me in three months that previous summer.

Sitting across from me is a 50 year old Orthodox Jewish man with AIDS on a unique life-ending quest: to figure out who Yeshua is and discover what G-d’s original plan was for his life before it got derailed with this horrible disease.

The first time we met he cried and told me I was the only one he could trust. When I asked why he slowly moved his eyes, which were gazing out the window, to meet mine and said:

“Because you chose to be here with us. Identify with us. Take on our pain. People think you’re one of us when you’re not. You could blend in and never care or think about us. Do you realize you have to go through your own ‘coming out’ everyday choosing to be with us? That is why I trust you.”

My friend got infected almost 30 years ago, and all his friends who had acquired HIV at the same time are now dead. He is one of the last documented people living with HIV’s original strand–what many originally thought as God’s final judgment for LGBTs.

In the hospital a few years earlier he was lying in his own death bed–eyes and cheeks sunken in, jaundiced skin and a weight of one hundred pounds–waiting to meet the same fate as everyone he once knew. His family flew in from the East Coast and Israel to say goodbye to their shamed grandson, son, brother, uncle and cousin. The hours passed, the goodbyes were spoken, and the wait for death began.

Yet he kept living. In his native Hebrew, that word is hai: “To give life; living.” The picture you see is the symbol for hai. For my birthday last year he gave me a necklace with that Hebrew symbol saying that I gave him life; that for the first time he is content knowing what will kill him one day because he now knows how to live.

I didn’t give him life. All I did was try to give him love.

So here we are, every Tuesday night, meeting to intentionally seek G-d’s face as we journey to discover why this man’s fate is life and not an early death.

And yes, he was right about taking on the names and labels of those in my neighborhood. Just last week I was walking to get my hair cut a man stuck his head out of the window of his truck and called me a Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaag. Then he sped off to continue his day like that was a normal thing to do.

Those occurrences are far more common then any of us living in Boystown would like to admit. Yet my daily decision to stay in Boystown on this journey of love has shown me moments like that are worth every minute of the Kingdom I boldly claim to be a part of — because I can’t love someone who has been ignorantly labeled unless I take that label on myself.


  • Anonymous

    Wow, Andrew! Thanks so much for sharing your powerful story. “I can’t love someone who has been ignorantly labeled unless I take that label on myself.” THAT is a challenge to us all.

  • http://twitter.com/PatriciaDeWit PatriciaDeWit

     I can’t love someone who has been ignorantly labeled unless I take that label on myself. I guess that explains a lot. My son is gay. Andrew, I’ve followed you on Twitter, reading your stuff, and watching how you journey. I admire you immensely and hope one day to meet you!!

  • http://www.mohan37.com/ mohan37

    Thanks for this piece Andrew.  Love your honesty and insight :)

  • Margaret

    This is a powerful message, Andrew.

    Thank you for having the courage to live their truth – giving and understanding love of all kinds in ways few of us will ever experience. How mighty is the God upon whom you lean. You are specially chosen…how trusted by Him you must be!

    Your words are poignant and touching, this is true…but it is the faith and heart you are living in your everyday choices which make you beautiful.

    Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/AshleyASmith ash

    agreed.

  • Perkins

    I struggle with truth in grace. I personally want grace, but I also need truth. Yet, I tend to speak truth to others without shring grace. Thanks acting out grace and truth.

  • Laci

    Blown away. I too take that challenge. Thank you.

  • Alexmheadrick

    Awesome post. I love that last paragraph and statement “because I can’t love someone who has been ignorantly labeled unless I take that label on myself.” Isn’t that what Jesus did? God became man to experience what we did. It never occured to me until just now, that that’s what we’re called to do as well.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OTDVBS5JKWJUEJ54FWO74W7BJY Bryan E. Buchholz

    Great post Andrew. Your comment, “because I can’t love someone who has been ignorantly labeled unless I take that label on myself” is something to think about.

  • Bethconway

    Andrew, God is using you. This is so powerful!  Grace and peace to you!  

  • Tunabean

    Extremely moving. Thanks for all you do, Andrew!

  • Guest

    I think taking on our label of “broken” is exactly what Jesus did on the cross. So thank you for challenging us to live and love like Jesus did.