Miss Manners and Mozart

Red Ribbon

June 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of HIV/AIDS. This is another reflection from my experience working with HIV/AIDS, 1984-1993. You can catch up on previous installments by clicking on HIV/AIDS in the Topics box. 

David was a Miss Manners maven. He was also an incredible organist and sang in The Choir of Men and Boys at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Like most young people, he fled the Central Coast to attend college and settled in San Francisco after graduating.

David was in his late twenties when AIDS started to really impact his life. When he could no longer work, he gave up his life in San Francisco and moved back home to his parents’ in Atascadero. As you can imagine, he was bitter and angry. Dr. Gordon encouraged him to contact me, but he didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone. I had already been in touch with his wonderful parents, and decided to give David some time before hunting him down.

My sons and I lived next to the little, and I mean l-i-t-t-l-e,  Episcopal church in Atascadero. One day I heard this beautiful organ music wafting from the church. I was stunned! I knew the regular organist couldn’t make that kind of music come out of their little electronic organ! I had to find out who could make that kind of music on that kind of instrument.

Small towns never lock anything, so I had no problem letting myself in the door. I snuck in because I didn’t want to disturb whoever was playing. Nor did I want them to stop. Rarely did I hear a great church organist!

He was completely absorbed in his playing and all from memory! I sat there about a half hour before he stopped playing. He got up from the bench and was startled to see me sitting there. I spoke first, complimenting him on his exquisite playing. The tell-tale Kaposi’s could be seen on his face. I suspected this was David. He told me how he learned to play at that very organ when he was growing up. He had only recently moved back. I introduced myself and asked if he was David.

An angry flicker flashed in his eyes, and then resignation. He sat down in a nearby pew and started talking. He talked and cried and talked and cried. Grief and sadness just poured out of him. He was my age, yet grappling with dying, isolation, and the loss of all of his dreams. It was heartbreaking.

Because he also lived in Atascadero, it was convenient to see him. His health deteriorated quickly and when it did, his world closed in around him. Besides his music which he could no longer play, he loved Miss Manners. He had the authoritative Miss Manners volume and would have selections he wanted me to read to him when I came to visit.

I soon came to realize that these selected sections were really stepping off points for David’s commentary on the subject. He had such a dry wit and so completely got into character, that we’d be laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe! That summer I had several weddings I was officiating. David consulted Miss Manners and wedding etiquette to make sure I was in complete Miss Manners compliance even if the couple getting married chose to exhibit lack of class and vulgar taste.

David had only a couple of special requests for his memorial service. He wanted his service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco where he had been a member of the elite Choir of Men and Boys. He selected the organ pieces he wanted played and selections from Mozart’s Requiem to be sung. I was to officiate. And he wanted his cremains scattered by a select few in the San Francisco Bay while toasting champagne.

David was so excited when he got the sail boat arranged for the scattering. I tried to talk him out of my required presence on that boat, not being a fan of being in water deeper than I am tall. I of course, lost the argument. The beautiful weather on the Bay, the wonderful company, and champagne and delectable hors d’oeuvres made up for any apprehension I had. I secretly thanked David for his foresight!

David’s memorial service was full of beautiful music, wonderful remembrances, close family and friends in a spectacular cathedral! A huge crowd filtered in throughout the service. The music drew people passing by in and there was already the usually crowd in to walk the labyrinth or on Knob Hill sightseeing. I’m sure David was checking Miss Manners to see about the etiquette of crashing a memorial service.

I’d like to invite you to join me September 18, 2011 for the C.A.R.E.S. AIDS Walk in Sacramento, California. Four generations of my family, friends, and several Eternal Scheme readers are signed up! If you can’t join us to walk, won’t you please consider donating to our Dare to Care Team? Click here to get the details for walking or donating.

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