Award winning author Alex Sanchez is our October Guest Blogger. In this incredibly moving piece he writes that to have courage is to care about others.
I’m afraid people won’t like me. I get scared that my boyfriend will leave me for somebody better. And that nobody else will ever love me.
I feel afraid that no one will like what I’ve written, and they won’t buy the books I write, and that I’ll be a failure as a writer.
I worry that the building in which I live will catch fire and all my possessions will be lost in flames. When I step outside I get scared that I’ll be hit by a motorcycle, paralyzed, and confined to a hospital bed for the rest of my life, alone, with nobody to visit me.
I’ve wasted hours, days, even years afraid and worried about events that never happen. Fear is a thief. It has snatched moments of joy from my grasp, stolen chances for success, robbed me of precious peace of mind, and kept me from love.
I don’t want to live in fear. I want to have courage.
Where does courage come from?
From the time I was a boy I mistakenly believed that having fear made me a coward. Family and friends told me, “Stop being scared! You’re acting like a wimp! Don’t be a fraidy-cat!” But nobody ever told me how to stop fear.
My dad never sat me down and said, “I’m going to pass on to you how to conquer the greatest enemy you’ll ever face.” My mom never said, “Come take a walk with me, hold my hand, and I’ll show you a secret to happiness you must always remember.” No instructor ever told me, “Listen! Today I will teach you one of the most important lessons you’ll ever learn in life.”
And yet when I look back I see how my parents and teachers and friends often were teaching me how to stop fear and have courage. I just didn’t realize it.
To have courage is to care about others when we don’t have to care. To be loving without expectation of love. To put aside what we want for what others need.
We are all connected to each other, whether we want to be or not. We’re like survivors on a life raft at sea. We will encounter waves, and rain, and sharks, and maybe even typhoons, but if we help each other, we can all get safely to shore. Reaching out to others is the way I’ve learned to stop fear.
For much of my life, one of my fears has been that I’ll get HIV.
My fear is that I’ll get sick, and I won’t have enough money for medications, and people will judge me as stupid and irresponsible for getting infected, and my friends and family will abandon me, and I’ll die alone, and my life will have had no value.
It turns out I’m not alone in such fears. I’ve seen it reflected in others—in their fear of talking about HIV, fear of dating or merely being friends with somebody HIV-positive, fear of being tested for HIV.
Each time I’ve gone to get tested I’ve asked a friend to go with me. And in turn, I’ve accompanied many friends to their tests. Together we’ve paddled safely to shore.
In Thailand, where my boyfriend lives, I’ve discovered that fears about HIV are as prevalent as in America.
I’ve found that the fears are often even greater because the bonds of family, community, and culture are stronger. For a Thai person who is gay or HIV-positive, their fear is often compounded by a deeply profound sense that they’ve brought shame not only to themselves but also to their family and culture. The depth of that shame has been difficult for a westerner like me to fully fathom.
A Thai friend of mine whom I accompanied to the clinic and who tested positive simply couldn’t accept his diagnosis. His fear and shame kept him from seeking medical help. Over the last few years he began to get sick and withdraw from our friendship. Although I tried to keep in touch, eventually he stopped communicating. I miss him deeply. And I feel so very sad because I know it doesn’t have to be this way. I have friends who tested positive over 20 years ago and with medications they continue to live happy healthy lives.
And yet I understand the power of fear. Too often my fear has led me to react rashly in situations. Or, like my friend, I’ve failed to act at all—I’ve become paralyzed and “stuck,” unable to take action. The way out for me has been through the courage given to me by others.
I need people in my life who remind me how to have courage.
I’ve learned that wherever I am, I need to seek out people who give me courage. In Bangkok, one of my courage-giving friends helped to start the HIV Foundation Thailand. That purpose-driven nonprofit organizes caseworkers who accompany people to get tested for HIV. If a person tests positive, the organization helps them through the bureaucratic and often impenetrable health care system that can be fearfully overwhelming to a newly diagnosed person. Plus they provide support groups, both online and face-to-face, for clients to help each other. Simply put, the Foundation gives people courage.
Their model has demonstrated results that are both successful and inspiring. Whereas other anti-HIV strategies have far too often sidestepped the human heart, the Foundation accomplishes its goals by taking into account the reality of fear inherent in any human epidemic and the need to give courage.
I’m a fan of the HIV Foundation not only because I believe in their work, but also because it gives me a powerful reminder of how to stop my own fear and to instead have courage—by reaching out to others.