Jim (name changed) is dying of AIDS. Today, he came to the art table at the drop-in center, grinning wildly. I said, “Jim, how are you?” He said he was (some incredibly long strand of adjectives, all meaning fabulous). I asked why. He said his T-cell count is up, that his doctor is baffled by it and he is thrilled.
Suddenly his eyes lit on the art work behind me. “Oh, there’s my art!” Behind me is a series of seven paintings, half with a black background, half with a green background. His art is covered with multiple streaks of color — he has been creating these for about a month now. He would like to sell them for hundreds of dollars.
Jim is wearing gaudy rings on his hands. His black hair is cut short. His chest, exposed beneath his tank-top, is completely bare. He shaves his chest regularly so that he can dance as a drag queen in a gay bar. I am beginning to love Jim.
I notice his hands are covered with open sores. I see dried blood in splotches on his thumb and knuckles. I ask Jim where they come from and he shrugs, “I don’t know.” I do know — I have studies AIDS enough to know that victims often have blisters and open sores — this is evidence of the progress of his illness. I also know that AIDS spreads through blood, and I am a bit uncomfortable with these blisters and open sores. I remind myself that I must have a cut to be vulnerable and I feel better.
Jim looks at me a moment. “Sometimes I wish I would just be taken in my sleep…”
I look at Jim. “I think it’s good you have time to prepare.”
He says, “Time to prepare for what?”
“Time to deal with your relationships on earth and time to prepare to meet God.”
Jim is silent a moment. “I don’t think I can do anything else to prepare.”
I say, “There is…” and he cuts me off, finishing my sentence for me. “There is always more I can do to prepare to meet God.”
Later, after the paintings are put away and our group has begun to pray, I notice Jim has fallen asleep on the ground beside us. His ringed fingers are crossed as he rests his head in the bend of his elbows. Suddenly, I see him as a child, broken and afraid. I see how the Lord must look upon him, and I pray, “Lord, cover Jim with Your love.”