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We Didn't Die

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A doctor told me that I had 18 months to live. That was in 1990. He was wrong.

He told me that by the time the paperwork was processed to get me the second-ever approved AIDS medication, I would be dead and his efforts wasted. Back then, we called it AIDS. We didn't have time for the prissiness of HIV.

 

I switched doctors. The young Tampa lesbian had a patient caseload of 800, give or take those who died any given day. She promised that she could get me the medicine quickly. She reached up and pulled a box of it out of a cabinet.

And somehow, for some reason known only to God, I didn't die.

When you live with a death sentence, though, you don't have the luxury of a cold. A cold could mean the end. Feeling "under the weather" is such a foreign concept when you're always sick from medication and disease.

But I didn't die. Diagnosed a year before completing studies that would take me from being a newspaper reporter to being a pastor; I did what had to be done to get the medication and to tend to those who were dying all around me. And they were — by the hundreds.

It perplexes me today to hear student pastors speak of discerning the specialty of ministry. Like getting a cold, this was a luxury that I never knew.

Not once did I hear God call me specifically to kneel in human waste to pray with frightened, dying young men. Not once did I hear God call me specifically to spend an hour dreaming with a dying prostitute of the restored body she would have in heaven. Not once did I hear God call me specifically to hold up falling "stick people" in church doorways or to take a baby in my arms as his frail mother fell while waiting for food.

For nearly 30 years, served as a pastor. Another luxury that I lacked was missing Sunday worship because of sickness. I did that once, just after marriage equality became real in South Carolina. I was in a hospital emergency room. They wouldn't let me leave.

But I didn't die. Nor did the churches. All three, including the two where I spent 22 years as senior pastor, completed building programs that are now worth as much as $1 million in total, moving from rented storefronts. It's amazing the things that seminaries don't teach you, such as mapping sewer lines, installing security cameras, backlighting stained glass, applying for loans, and the like.

After conducting 79 funerals, officiating at 117 weddings, and preaching hundreds upon hundreds of sermons (mostly in South Carolina and Florida), I retired June 1st along with my husband, my helpmate for 34 years. We began our lives together in 1983, were united before God and friends in 1991, and legally married in 2014. He's a retired math professor who estimates that we have slept side by side for more than 10,000 nights.


We didn't die. My first grandchild, one I never expected to see or to hold, was born on World AIDS Day. A speaker once prayed on her second birthday that we would dance together at her wedding. That now seems possible, although I hope she's in no rush. She is bold, bright, and beautiful and turns 19 this year. She sees gender and sexuality to be a fluid and wonderful part of creation. She celebrates this. She took her girlfriend to the senior prom. Her boyfriend, for now, has performed in drag.

This weekend, me and the other old fellow who is my husband go to Carowinds with my nephew, actually now our nephew, a music theater student at the acclaimed Belmont University in Nashville and his boyfriend, a Winston-Salem police officer.

Earlier this year, at the hospice bed of my beloved sister-in-law, the good ol' country boy who is my twin introduced my husband and me to the chaplain as a couple. Later, he asked me if that was OK. It was. Most definitely, it was.

We didn't die. In the short time since our retirement (another most unexpected milestone), we are leaving behind many old friends at least temporarily. A new pastor needs to replace me in the hearts of those I love.

We are making new friends and pursuing new dreams, gardening, reading great literature, volunteering at animal shelters and farm sanctuaries, justice ministries, mercy ministries, maybe a little travel, and a lot of naps. We live in a little quirky South Carolina city, a place that was declared a city long before it stopped calling itself a town.

The world has changed greatly since 1982. We became open about our sexuality. The South has changed. Churches have changed. Families have changed. We are blessed. We didn't die.

by Andy Sidden,
Pastor (retired) and member of Columbia, SC Prime Timers (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

 

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Last modified on Sunday, 03 September 2017 17:41

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