Brad, Nelson, British Columbia
Brad exuded a kind of suffering that was easy to misjudge. He moved his long blonde hair aside to reveal bulging eyes, a gaunt face and yellowing teeth. His jeans hung loosely on his sickly frame. At first glance, he was a frightening man. “Actually, I prefer the term creature, because we’re all just creatures after all,” he said. As he spoke, he shared insight that only one desperately obsessed with enlightenment could accumulate. I quickly adopted an instinct to comfort him, while admiring his strength to become a better person than life had set him up to be. I don’t know where the conversation had its start, what spiralling thoughts encouraged Brad to tell me that he has HIV. He told stories of leaving South Africa; of living with disease; of holding a lover as he died, his warrior body decomposing with time and the final breath of recognition as it left his tattooed face. He told me of meeting other people in Nelson who understood the urgency of finding peace, love, and answers for our existence; of his shifting priorities; of his pain. I cried for Brad. We cried together for the task that is learning how to live, and the much more arduous task that is learning how to die. For Brad, the two have been forced to become the same.He looked deeply into my eyes with powerful acceptance. “If you ever need help letting go, I can help you.” A beautiful reconditioning of fate into a gift. While others enjoyed moments as building blocks in their tower of memories, Brad played a patient game of Jenga, recording the rules of balance and sharing the results. “There is a reason we met. I love you, sweet pea. You are so large,” he said. I took a photo of him that permeates resilience. This is the image I will keep should we never meet again before the end. I hope he retains his gumption - impossible to ask of a human being no matter how he prepares his soul. Yet Brad is a creature, and time is his opportunity. A creature wanting to fix his nature before it’s too late. A creature obsessed with enlightenment simply because he must be.