Remembering friends…telling their story

In the last couple days two very dear friends have been on my mind and help me with some things I’ve been facing. As such I wanted to take time to honor them and remember them because telling their stories keeps their memories alive in our hearts.

First was Phil. Phil was a very dear friend of mine in the early 90s – A mentor of sorts as I came out of the closet for the second time. (That’s another story for another day…) Phil taught me about living with dignity, enjoying the passion of music, and the value of investing time and energy with young adults. Phil was the first choral director for the Northernaires at North Central high school – a gospel choir at a public high school. He was also a man and lived with HIV. This was at a time when the world was very different. Our understanding and acceptance of the disease was far from what it is today. Phil took a calculated risk to share his same-sex partnership and his health situation (carefully and appropriately nonetheless…) with many of the students in his choir, particularly towards the end of his life in the mid 90s, as he died of complications related to AIDS. By doing so, Phil educated those kids, at a very critical time in their life, about HIV/AIDS…surely helping to reduce the stigma and misunderstanding among those teenagers, which played forward across relationships in future years & generations. He also showed them how to live with dignity…and ultimately how to die with dignity.

I was away on an international business trip when he passed. And fortunately my boss was very understanding and allowed me to fly home early in order to attend his memorial. The gospel choir performed at his memorial for a packed church (I believe at Trinity Episcopal in downtown Indy). And I will never forget seeing the one girl in the front row start to cry…and from there there was not a dry eye in the house. Those kids learned how to get through grief and loss at a very young age because let me tell you… They loved and respected their choral director. You could see it in their faces at the rehearsals and at their concerts.

I’ll never forget how Phil would remind them to tighten up their muscles and project… You should be able to hold up a quarter in the grip of your butt cheeks. And all it took on the night of the concert was still taking out a quarter and holding it up to the kids to remind them of proper posture and projection and muscle control. They knew the secret sign…and the audience had no idea what was being “passed” from director to singers in that moment…

Of course Phil was also the famous one who, at a house party at my place on Central, called out across the living room “hey everyone, let’s all chip in and buy Todd a butt.” Yes I have a flat ass thank you very much Phil for pointing it out. I love you dearly.

The second man that came to mind this week was Scott. Scott was our lay leader at Broadway. During my unemployment in 2010, he left his full-time career as a HR executive to follow his dream of helping people in the community through his gift as a life coach. My pastor recommended that I perhaps pair up with Scott and indeed I did. He became my life coach during my unemployment…as well as a close friend. Unfortunately, within months of starting our relationship, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. And within 6 to 8 months, passed away.

He, too, taught those around him how to live and how to die with dignity. Unfortunately, he also faced discrimination at the hands of our healthcare system in Indiana. Due to a loophole in our laws, he was unable to receive the care that he needed here in the state of Indiana because it was illegal for a person with HIV to be able to use their own blood or bone marrow for medical treatments, since it is illegal for people with HIV to give blood or be organ donors. This,of course, does not make sense in these cases…since it was for their own use and treatment. As a result of this discrimination, he had to fly out to California to seek the necessary treatment and by the time he got out there, it was too late.  They sent him back home to Indiana, where he lived out his final weeks with his hallmark smile and care for others.  The nurses on his floor, I remember, were particularly moved by Scott’s spirit…

Fortunately, his quiet legacy lives on, because his family took on the doctors and the hospitals…and with their support, got the law changed.  Now blood or bone marrow from an HIV/AIDS patient, for one’s own medical care, is  permitted in the State of Indiana. For those of us who know the story, we fondly call this the Scott C law. We know the story…and the legacy he left behind.

I think of Scott often when I use his life coaching techniques in my day-to-day life. And I think of Phil when I hear or see the Northernaires perform.

I love you both. Thanks for being my friend.

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I see life as full of possibilities and the world full of beautiful people possessing unique and often untapped talents. I’m a learner and connector, seeking ways to leverage the abundance in this world through strong community.

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