On my facebook page this morning I wrote, “Kenn Chaplin is very grateful for all the 50th birthday greetings and to have reached such a milestone without doing myself too much irreparable harm.”
It could have been much different.
As a teenager I thought I wouldn’t live to see forty, nor would I want to.
When diagnosed with HIV in 1989, and AIDS a few years later, it was suggested that I probably had a maximum of ten years to live. In fact I did nearly die of cryptospoidiosis which my doctor still talks about with a sense of marvel. It only seemed logical that I should accept the reality, with countless friends dying around me, and try to live into death with as much grace as I could muster. What I asserted was realism some friends took to be pessimism. One I think of in particular eventually drifted away as, it seems to me, she could neither tolerate what I believed to be reasonable thoughts of dying nor the fact that my health was, to her, no longer of imminent concern.
However when my brother Craig, who also had HIV/AIDS, celebrated his fortieth birthday in 1995 this friend organized a beautiful, catered party for my thirty-sixth birthday. The message seemed to be to celebrate now, the fortieth is a long distance away.
Even the advent of a host of new medications, the so-called “cocktail” of drugs, in 1995-6 seemed to me to be too little, too late considering the long list of side effects.
So far, however, none of those side effects have been fatal to me. The fortieth birthday arrived and was celebrated by a great mix of friends at the Mandarin.
The ten years since have had a few disappointments and the tragic death of Craig after a bad fall. Dad died in his garden in May of 2002 and the following spring I was involved in a smack-down with a cab and spent five weeks in hospital during SARS. I had a couple of short relapses with alcohol and other drugs, but got back on my feet after Craig’s death in May of 2007. When it comes to sobriety I need to count my milestones in days. At nearly two-and-a-half years, today marks 860 days. I have been sober far more days since my HIV/AIDS diagnosis than I have been drunk. That’s a life-affirming fact for me.
Craig’s death tore me apart and I wished that I could have died instead of him – the usual Kubler-Ross sort of bargaining. That’s not how life works. It’s just too unpredictable and random to be bartered like that.
At Thanksgiving we had the biggest family gathering at home in Perth since Craig’s death. We also used the occasion to celebrate my birthday.
My passion for writing, as evidenced in my blog, keeps me going now. The writing group, which I had been thinking about starting for a while, only came about when I was introduced to Linda Dawn who shared a vision. The workshops last summer, and the group now, are the latest milestones which culminated yesterday with my fiftieth birthday.
On Sunday, friends presented me with a beautiful birthday cake and Linda Dawn and I spent some time driving around, looking at the glorious leaves. After she had dropped me off I grabbed my camera (the link is to a facebook photo album) and went for an insanely long walk, about five hours, from the Rosedale Valley to Corktown, along King Street, over to Union Station, up Bay Street, across Yonge-Dundas Square to Ryerson and finally home. Maybe it was the effects of the cake and a lemon tart but it was only the last push home when I was tempted to hail a cab.
Craig was fifty-one when he died, just four days shy of fifty-two. Rather than assume I know when I am going to die, such arrogance could not sustain itself, I am going to try to live fully as if I have no idea when my time is up – because I know now that I truly have no idea and I am fine with that.