When I first found out that English teacher Joe Cornish has AIDS, I felt as if an oppressive chunk of lead suddenly dislodged my heart. Here is somebody I respect as a teacher, as an adviser and as a friend who now has AIDS. Nothing I have ever learned about the illness could have prepared me for this shock.
For the next few days, I felt upset that my friend’s life would be cruelly cut short. But as the weeks drifted by, my feelings soon turned into frustration.
As of now, four months have passed since Mr. Cornish volunteered to have his medical condition publicly announced. But little has been murmured about him or AIDS except an occasional brief remark.
It is this reluctance to talk about Mr. Cornish and about AIDS that troubles me. Not until I noticed that I pronounced AIDS with ease while engaged in conversation with Mr. Cornish did I finally perceive the problem: AIDS exposes our timeless human weaknesses to judge, to fear, to shun.
But should fear justify shunning AIDS and those most in need of a friend? Or are we hesitant to talk about AIDS because we’re really uncomfortable with ourselves and our sexuality?
Whatever our reasons may be for refusing to talk about AIDS, the persistent state of denial needs to stop. Mr. Cornish wanted his health situation revealed and discussed openly so that we would heighten our understanding of AIDS and realize how close it touches us. Whether or not we are ready to accept it, AIDS has come to San Gabriel High School. Since Mr. Cornish has graciously shared that he has AIDS--at the expense of his privacy--we should at least honor his wish.
If the purpose of a secondary education is to prepare students for the real world, why haven’t we mobilized yet to educate about AIDS? Isn’t the teen-age population one of the fastest-growing groups at risk of becoming HIV infected? It’s obvious that we can no longer hide behind a wall of inhibitions in discussing sexual practices and other risk factors associated with HIV/AIDS if we are to battle the epidemic. Our own discomfort needs to dissolve. As AIDS continues to affect us in its own determined way, we need to band together to shape a more sensitive society.
For the old belief that society shapes us is actually a myth: We are responsible for shaping society.