In general, people throw that phrase around a lot. How many times have I heard elders musing, "Oh, my! How times have changed!" I've even said it myself on occasion. But lately things on my mind have caused me to wonder if they really have.
My mother is the second youngest of 6 children, having only Uncle Harry below her in line. My Uncle Harry has been on my mind more than usual lately (and I do think of him often), particularly since the wonderful changes in NY law. See, my uncle was gay. I say "was" because he passed away when he was only 26 due to AIDS-related pneumonia. I was only 8 at the time, and my memories of him, sadly, are few.
Unfortunately, what I do remember is not so much of his life, but of my family and what things were like when he got sick. It was the 80s, and the early 80s at that, so very little was known about HIV, let alone AIDS. I have vague recollections of being at my grandmother's house a lot. The adults would sit around the dinner table with sullen expressions, throwing around big words that I didn't understand. But every now and then they'd say things like "hospital" and "dying." Those words I knew, and I was scared of them.
So when my uncle was around, I would be so happy to see him. In my naive mind, if he was home, he wasn't dying. He couldn't possibly be sick, he looked fine! And if he looked fine, I could hug him, right? Not according to the fearful adults. With all the unknown about AIDS, my family really thought we could catch it by hugging him. I remember standing in my grandmother's kitchen, getting ready to leave and leaning to hug my uncle goodbye. That was until I was yanked away by my mother. She then whispered in my ear that Uncle Harry was sick and that I shouldn't hug him. I still recall the confusion and sadness I felt (sadness that I still feel). But hugs always made me feel better when I was sick! Why couldn't I make my uncle feel better? It wasn't fair, I thought. I went home feeling empty that night.
And that is my last memory of my uncle. He passed away a short time later, and I remember thinking that I never got to hug him. Almost 25 years later, I think about him often, wishing things had been different. Had he been sick nowadays, would he have been able to live a productive, happy life? I like to think so. But then I look at the state of society today and I find myself doubting it.
People are still that ignorant and afraid of things they don't know or understand. Other religions, other races, illnesses that cause someone to have an altered appearance or act "differently." These things "scare" people and so they look down their noses at them. Things that could potentially disturb or *gasp* shatter their sheltered suburban lives are to be looked at with disdain! Heaven forbid people should try to understand them or learn something before casting stones from their glass houses! This attitude sickens me. Call me a liberal, call me a socialist, call me a tree hugger, I don't care. It's called being a human with a heart. Different does not mean lesser. Who am I to judge someone else based on such superficial factors?
Perhaps it was my uncle's passing that taught me think this way. That his death taught me to hug everyone without fear. But it breaks my heart to know that he could be watching from heaven and is probably saying, "Gee, things haven't changed one bit."