They call him The Great White Hope and when you meet David Patient it is easy to understand the nickname. He is handsome, healthy, filled with vitality and vision despite his AIDS diagnosis nearly thirty years ago. To receive this diagnosis in 1983 on your twenty-second birthday was a death sentence. The killer disease was just beginning to be seen and recognized in the hospitals of America. David beat all the odds and now crisscrosses sub-saharan Africa with his partner at Empowerment Concepts, research psychologist Neil Orr, to teach and inspire others to stand up and claim their future.
They began work with HIV+ people when they were one of the few real voices of knowledge and hope in South Africa in the late 90‘s. Their Positive Health workshops covered everything from how to grow vegetables to the need for friends but the emphasis was always on personal responsibility, choice and the vision of a positive future. Having worked with thousands, they find their message is true for folks who are positive or negative, teenagers, grannies and everyone in between, corporate teams, government agencies and struggling communities. How do the lessons AIDS taught David figure into their teaching these days?
The first thing he did when given six months to live was to go out to buy a coffin and plan his funeral down to the last detail. He met his fear of death by facing it, then, quickly, turned his attention to the business of living. He bought a house with a thirty year mortgage, began planting trees and dreaming of sailing a yacht. He first bought a coffee mug with an picture on it of himself sailing a yacht at sunrise. Nineteen months later he was steering his own yacht in the waters off the San Juan Islands.
Holding a positive vision of your future firmly in your heart, is a central theme of David’s message and by this he doesn’t mean a whimsical day dream floating about in your mind. No, this is where he sternly instructs you to “turn your wishbone into a backbone.” You must have the capacity to envision yourself fully engaged in that future in a way that makes your heart beat fast. “Find a vision of yourself that blows your hair back.” See it, feel it fully and then begin to walk resolutely towards that future step by step, action by action, choice by choice.
The vision that has held his attention for years is one in which he is speaking to a huge crowd, telling the story of the time when there was a thing called AIDS. It is this vision that informs his instincts, his actions and choices. We haven’t reached the moment yet when he can tell this tale but we are getting close.
At the world AIDS conference in July there they was the remarkable understanding that AIDS is now a treatable disease. It seems miraculous to hear that with proper medical care, an HIV+ person’s projected life span is in line with the general population’s.
As the AIDS conference occurs, I want to recognize David for all the wit and wisdom, information and inspiration he has offered to so many people for so many years. I look forward to being in the audience when his vision happens in real time for he is one of the true heroes of the thing called AIDS. He has given hope and tools to many and his capacity to merge vision with action is a message we can all take to heart.
About the author:
Judy Miller divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Limpopo Province, South Africa. In 2000, she left a private counseling practice in Portland and spent the next ten years working in community development in rural South Africa. Currently, Judy continues to support the Mapusha Weaving Cooperative and the Katlego creche in Rooiboklaagte while working in Portland as a writer, speaker and teacher. Her passion is to inspire and to help create a vibrant global community with ever-deepening bonds of connection and understanding between peoples.
The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.