This is a story I share often, but World Aids Day seems like a good time to tell it again.
You may not know who Mary Fisher is. She was one of the first faces of HIV that wasn’t gay or male. When she spoke at the Republican national convention in 1992, she completely changed the conversation about HIV and AIDS.
In the early to mid-90s, I was part of a RAIN team. RAIN stood for Regional AIDS Interfaith Network. At a time when people were being turned out and rejected from their families for having AIDS, and even healthcare workers were harboring fears about the disease, RAIN teams adopted AIDS patients and made sure they had food, rides to the doctor and people they knew cared about them.
It was heartbreaking and heart-growing work. Swabbing a dying man’s mouth with a lollipop-looking sponge soaked in water because he could no longer swallow and the healthcare workers were afraid to touch him was one time in my life when I felt I was sure I was living up to the bracelet and doing what Jesus would have done.
It was through RAIN that I got to meet Mary Fisher. She came and spoke at a fundraiser for RAIN. I will always remember the story she told. It’s not her story. Some people say it’s an ancient Chinese proverb. Others say it came from a Dear Abby column. While I may not know its exact origin, it’s a story I’ve never forgotten.
A man who knew he was coming to the end of his life wanted to know what heaven and hell looked like. So he sought out the wisest man in the community. The wise man led him down a strange path, and the man found himself in the middle of a huge room with lots of people and many enormous tables with an incredible array of food. But the people were all thin and sickly, and they looked positively miserable. They all had long spoons tied to their hands. So long that they could not get the food on the spoons to their mouths. So with an abundance of food all around them, they were starving.
The old man then said to the wise man “Now I know what hell looks like, will you please show me what Heaven looks like?” The wise man led him down the same path a little further until they came upon another huge room similar to the first–same tables filled with all kinds of delicious food. The people also had long spoons tied to their hands, but these people all looked well-fed and happy. This puzzled the old man and he asked, “Heaven and hell seem to be the same place. Why are people miserable in one and so content in the other?” The wise man replied, “in Heaven we feed each other.”
On this World Aids Day and the day our journey of Advent begins, may we be people who feed each other, forgive one another and love one another.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer is an online, inclusive and progressive Christian community. Follow us on Facebook and get emails to keep up with all that is happening.