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The Man Who Tied My Shoes


From the moment I laid eyes on him I was stuck by how much the illness had ravaged his body. I had grown up in a place where I had seen my share of AIDS victims, or so I thought. But the ones I had seen, leaning their partner’s arm at an evening benefit for the local charity, was nothing compared to how ill he was. As he sat up in bed I wondered where the rest of him was. Then I realized his legs were still under the blanket. They were just so small that it looked as if nothing was there.


I don’t remember his name at all, which is funny because I swore to myself that I would always remember sitting on his bed. During my time at university, I volunteered to visit individuals who were struggling with the final stages of AIDS. South of the Mason Dixon line, this meant many of those we visited had been abandoned by their families. This is not to say that none of these people had loved ones who regularly visited the ward, but many did not. Given my age, my mother had to explain to me later just how terrifying the HIV epidemic was and the stigma which still remained.


“Don’t you know I’m… gay?” the last word wasn’t even whispered- it was mouthed. I nodded and kept asking him questions about the horses he used to train before he became ill. No matter how sick people are, it’s always stories which provide the most targeted anesthetic. In this case he was telling me about himself, what he did and who he used to be. He didn’t spend his whole life in this bed being nearly invisible, he was someone. And then he went and did something very strange.


“Your shoe is untied.”

“Wha-… oh yeah. I can’t tie my own shoes. Fortunately I don’t really walk much so-“

“Will you let me tie it for you?”


To say I was taken aback would be putting it to moderately. I was shocked. Can you get your shoes tied by a dying man? Was there precedent for this? I hesitated, not wanting him to lose any more of his precious energy.


“Please. I’m a very good shoe tying kind of guy.” I nodded and moved my foot to where he could reach my shoe, his transparent fingers working the magic it takes to tie a shoe, the motions of which I still cannot comprehend. He did it deftly, as every adult I know does. In a flash, he was finished a simple double knot remained which was tied with such determination that it would take my friend seven minutes to undo that evening.


I am here. Even though I am ill, I lived. I am somebody.


Six years later and I still think of him almost every time someone ties my shoes. Within a month he had left his body and someone else had taken his place in his bed. Long after his name was gone from my mind the stories of who he was and the actions of what he did that winter night stay with me. He was a man who desired, like all of us really, to be known and loved rather than to be immortal. Even in our weakest moments we want to touch, interact , and even to serve in order to confirm that our existence will be snuffed out long after the breath has left the body.


In his case, I think that for the rest my life, his existence will keep burning.

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