Thursday, December 31, 2009


The year 2009 is now history. And with it, a decade that all who are old enough, will remember for the rest of their lives.

It now seems years and years ago when, on that picture perfect September day in New York City, the world changed forever. We were awakened to the fact that America had enemies that used faith as a cover for their burning hate. We were plunged into an atmosphere of hate that this society has seldom experienced. The fear runs so deep that the terrorists would have to do nothing more but sit back and watch us squirm at the least perceived threat.

All of us have, in one way or another, been affected by this cruel and brutal act of unspeakable violence. None of us looks at the world in the same way we did on September 10, 2001. We have come to see the world filled with shadows. They are shadows, indistinguishable, yet, real, plotting to do us harm. We look at our children and grandchildren differently and envision for them a world much different from the world in which we grew up. Ever since that fateful morning, everything seems to be in chaos. Nothing seems settled. We try to go about our business as usual, but the specter of another attack looms darkly, always on the horizon.

But the decade was also filled with many life transitioning events. I was blessed, as was our family, with the arrival of the two newest members, Aliyah and Keirah. They are beautiful little girls who are reminders that no matter what the present may be delivering at any given moment, there still is the hope of the future. These bright, charming and delightful little ones breathed a breath of fresh air into our lives and delivered more smiles and laughter than anyone could ever imagine. To fall in love with your grandchildren is a special gift from God that simply defies words.

Just as birth is a natural part of life, so, too, is death. And during these past ten years we have bid farewell to a number of elderly family members who had led full productive lives. They are surely missed but have really never departed from us. They linger in our hearts and memories only to become an even greater and, perhaps, more meaningful part of who we are. We know that one day we shall be reunited with them in ways unimaginable to the human mind or imagination. We still miss them but the hope of that one day of reunification propels us forward.

Now it is 2010. Our thoughts naturally turn to what the future might bring. Those two little grandchildren who are now seven and three will, in another ten years, grow exponentially toward adulthood. They will be young ladies busily planning out their lives with the energy and enthusiasm that only the young can muster. Our children will be in middle age, becoming more and more confident of who they are and what their roles mean. They will understand more deeply what it means to love another person on so many different levels. They will also realize that life is very finite and that to truly live a full life, they must earnestly embrace each passing day.

As for us, well, we will be another decade older and hopefully wiser. We will be in our mid-sixties having added even more experience to the library of life knowledge that we have thus far accumulated. Hopefully, we will have become more understanding and tolerant of others in our wisdom. We pray that our physical health stands strong so that we may enjoy life from the unique perspective of an older and wiser person. Once again we will be amazed at how fast time has flown and wonder aloud what the future will bring to us.

As for those who are a generation older than we, they may still be with us and if they are we pray that they have reasonably sound health. If they are more sickly than before, we pray that God grant us the patience and understanding to take care of them with the same care and love with which they nurtured us as children. They have never been perfect, nor will they be, but the fact remains that they are our parents and relatives and have loved us unconditionally through thick and thin.

The future is often what we make of it and it is my hope and prayer that all who read this will make their future a walk with God who will guide them along the right paths to peace and fulfillment. The future is an adventure to be lived and cherished. It is where we are all headed and while we do live in a world filled with uncertainty, it is my hope that we all find our ways peacefully and lovingly. We will not live forever but while we do, may we live life accompanied by those who love us for who we are, able to forgive even the most grievous of our sins and move on. For this is truly where we encounter God.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Soldier's Story

Ninety years ago, a young man from my hometown of Pekin, IL, was stationed in France after World War I. He was originally a country boy having grown up on a farm a few miles south of Pekin. When the "War To End All Wars" involved America, this young man set off for Europe to fight for freedom and justice. His father, the county sheriff, was a proud Irish immigrant from County Cork, Ireland. His mother was from sturdy stock in New England.

What follows is an article that appeared in the local newspaper. In the body of the article is a letter from this young man. It is not a dramatic recounting of a bloody encounter with the German enemy. It has no daring escapades within its pages. In fact, in some ways, the letter is rather boring with the exception of the fact that it provides a snapshot of life for that country lad. He was seeing things and experiencing things he could never have dreamed he could had it not been for his life in the military.

The young man who penned this letter home is none other than my grandfather Charlton. In the photo at the top of this piece you can see him in his Military Police uniform, an article of clothing that he was very proud of. He served his country with honor just as countless other young men of his generation and was forever proud of his service for the rest of his life. When he died in 1964, his casket was draped in a large American flag. I'll never forget that flag and the way it decorated his coffin. Thanks to my mother, I am the proud possessor of that very flag these 45 years later.

The article below appeared in the Pekin Daily Times in early 1919 and was written to my grandfather's good friend, Henry Schulte. I have not altered the spelling or the grammar to give you an idea of the authentic feel of the letter.


Letters From Home Town Listen Good To Soldiers

Henry Schulte of the Pekin Fire Department has received the following interesting letter from Jim Charlton, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Charlton who is now doing military police duty in Paris. Jim enclosed a picture of himself and three soldier friends and one glance shows that Jim has picked up a few pounds in weight and if there are any more imposing M.P.'s in Paris than Jim, they will have to go some.

Paris, France, Mar. 3, 1919

Dear Friend Henry:

Well Henry I received your letter Saturday and sure was glad to hear from you. I tell you a letter from the old home town folks looks better than a pay day. When I was home I used to hear of so many people saying we ought to write more to the boys over there, and I thought it was kind of foolish. But since I am over here I realize what a letter means to a soldier over here. I want to tel you a soldiers life in France isn't quite as nice as soldiering tin the states, at least I have found it different. But just the same I am very thankful that I am feeling well, and that the war ended when it did. Because I was making fast footsteps toward the front when the armistice was signed. At the time the armistice was signed I guess people all over France went wild but a fellow couldn't blame them. I know I felt mighty good about it.

Well, Henry I will tell you what we done after the armistice was signed. We left the little town of Mansigne on Sunday morning about seven o'clock, headed for a forwarding camp near Mayet, France, which was about eight miles. Well, we landed here about 11 o'clock. The first thing we did was to line up for dinner, and there being about 2500 of us soldiers here the same day and only one kitchen we had to wait a long time for something to eat. By the time I go to dinner it was about five o'clock so you can easily see that I might have been pretty hungry, after walking 8 miles and waiting so long for something to eat. But just the same I stood this part of it all right. Well we stayed here about three weeks and got a couple of more kitchens and commenced to get along a little bit better. The camp won the name of slum camp. Ha! Ha! So finally one day they started to look my old company over to get the military police and of course me being in good shape after eating slum for three weeks was picked for one. There was 35 out of my company picked and placed with 165 more and shipped in box cars to Auton, France, to take a two weeks course in military police duty.

Well, after we finished our course here we rode third class in to Paris. And believe me I was glad when they said we would ride third class and do away with riding like a bunch of cattle. The joke was when we were riding in these box cars it read on the door 40 hommas or 8 head of horses in the American language.

I am a military police in Paris, or at least I done this for the first month. But now I doing traffic control. I wish you could see me walking the streets of Paris with one of these French police. i sure have to laugh some times about it because he can't talk to me and I can't make him understand me.

But just the same we get along with our work just the same. I went on duty last night with one of them about six o'clock and we walk about two hours. When we finally landed close to a roller skating rink and we went in for a while and believe me this is some place too, I am telling you. The skating rink is about 200 feet by 100 feet, a large cafe and also a moving picture show combined. It is sure quite a place. I want to tell you that Paris is quite a place, and sure glad beings I had to stay over here that I got the chance to come to Paris. I went to see a large picture of the war painted by some Frenchman which is wonderful. And if I didn't get to see another thing while I am in Paris I sure would be satisfied. The picture is 350 feet long and 40 feet wide. It shows the battle front and the different nations which took part in the big war. Henry, I can't explain what a beautiful picture this is. But it sure is grand. I also was out to see Napoleon's tomb and also went through the museum. This is a beautiful place. I tell you every time I get a day off I make use of it by going out sight seeing.

Well, Henry, this ends my story what I am doing now, and will explain the picture I am sending you. Of course you don't know these three fellows with me but you can study out who that one guy is. He is the same fellow who used to ride the yellow wheel around the streets of our home in Paris and of course some of the fellows in our company had to be bothering us and made us move a little and spoil the picture. But just the same, I am proud of it. Will bring this letter to a close this time. Hoping this finds you all well. I am feeling fine. Give my best regards to the city hall bunch.

From Friend

Jim W Charlton
264 M.P. Co., 132 Bn., A.P. 702 A. E.

Jim Charlton, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Charlton, of this city, who is in the military police stationed at the Pershing Stadium now and also seeing some real good sport. The Pekin boy is stationed right at the Pershing Hut, which is some honor. Jim's number is 264 and we venture that there is not a finer looking cop in gay Paree.


What became of that picture of the three M.P.'s is not known. But the picture of the proud young Military Police Officer is a portrait that has been in my family all these years. My grandfather left quite a legacy!

Stopping By the Woods On A Snowy Evening

One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. The imagery of his poetry stands out as a portrait of America for me. His poetry has a sense of dignity and peace and is always laced, at the same time, with a sense of gritty reality.

One of my favorite poems is "Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening." I present it to you below as a reminder that even the cold and snowy winter can be filled with wonder and beauty.

Stopping By the Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods are these I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think its queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost
New Hampshire

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Over??

Well, the "Big Day" has come and gone. Untold miles of wrapping paper have been moved from the place of honor--under the tree--to the place of dishonor--the trash. Relatives have come and gone. There may be some egg nog left, but the desire for a normal meal overcomes the formal urge to drown oneself in the silky smooth seasonal treat just one more time. The tree is still up, but its days are now numbered even though no one dares speak of that eventuality just yet. Kids, once excited by the treasures they have inherited, now lay exhausted in warm beds. And parents, in the late night quiet of the house, wonder what became of the time as the fatigue of the last few days of frenetic preparation for the holiday sets in. Somehow, the cold of winter becomes a little more chilling as we are now faced with little to look forward to in the next few months. For many people, we now enter a time of let down. The celebrations are over. Music reconverts to the old standards. Decorations slowly come down as the color of the season gives way to the darkness of the long winter ahead. And the next Christmas in our lives seems so far distant. Christmas is over.

However, that seems to contradict the message of the season that we just passed through. For weeks we have heard, over and over, Christmas music proclaiming peace on earth and good will to men. We have greeted each other in subtly different ways with warmth and kindness. We have proclaimed this season as a joyous time because Christ our Savior is born! Yet, even before the day is ended, we so often hear people returning to life outside the holiday. How strange this is! As followers of Christ, Christmas does not come and go, but, rather, should be a time of beginning.

For you see, Christmas is not what we have just celebrated. We have just celebrated a passage of time marked by parties, gatherings, and yearly rituals that make us all feel a little better about things. We often relive warm memories from the past and celebrate those "good old days" but that is not Christmas either. What do I mean?

Christmas is not an event! Christmas is not a date on the calendar that marks the time of a special period of celebration and then suddenly comes to an end with the beginning of a new day. Christmas is a new way of life guided through the teachings of Jesus Christ. There is a sentimentality about putting up the manger scene under the tree, but there is a real grit to living out on a day-to-day basis what that crib means. It means loving one another despite our differences and hurts. It means reaching out to those in need even though we may have very little in the way of material goods ourselves. It means laying aside differences between family members in an attempt to forgive and reconcile just as the Master taught. It means serving and sacrificing. It means preaching the Word of God through our life-style more than simple, empty platitudes.

If we live in accord with the teachings of Christ, then Christmas truly never ends. It becomes a way of living, not just a date or season on the calendar. During this time of the year, we read in sacred Scripture of the three wise men who followed a special star in the heavens to the place of the birth of our Lord in order to give Him honor and praise. (cf Mt 2: 1-12) Their faith was so great that they sacrificed nearly everything to follow that one point in the sky to find their salvation.

I have a simple question: what star do you follow? Is it the star of the pursuit of wealth? Is it the star of the illusion of fame? Is it the star of pleasure? Is it the star of self-absorption, seeing everything as revolving around you? Or is it the star of the teachings of the Master who came to teach, live and die so that we may live? It is the star of service to others? Is it the star of giving tirelessly to those who have nothing? Is it the star of prayer and worship? Or is it the star of teaching your children the ways of life according to the Son of God whom we have just celebrated?

As we stare 2010 in the face, let us look within ourselves to see if we can detect that star in our lives. If we need to follow a different star because the one we have seen leads us to the wrong path, then we must change our gaze and look toward the Savior of us all.

Christmas does not end! It takes place every day of our lives. We must, like the Magi of old, continually seek the star that leads us to the place of the Messiah in our lives. We must put aside petty disagreements and old wounds to forgive and once again embrace those who may have hurt us. We must become peacemakers one person at a time by recognizing that we are all wounded and all in need of the healing of Christ. In these ways and countless others we can ensure that every day of our life is Christmas day, wrapped in the teachings of the humble Rabbi of Nazareth who embraces each one of us with His love. "Love one another as I have loved you," (Jn 15: 12) must become our way of life. By living out this commandment, we can then truly say to one another, "Merry Christmas" each day of our lives throughout the year and relive the warmth of the lights and the fellowship that we have felt over the last few days and weeks leading up to Christmas!

Let Christmas become a way of life. In this way, peace shall be yours! Merry Christmas!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Sacred Season

Now, just a few short days before Christmas, we enter the sacred season. The joy is palpable. The anticipation is almost too much to bear. The fulfillment of dreams is about to be reenacted again and again. For this is the season of the coming of the Christ Child. A time of great joy and jubilation because of what it means to each and every one of us.

It is so easy in this season of secular bargain hunting to lose sight of why we do all of the things we do during this time. We hunt for goods at clearance prices as though our very existence depended upon it. We gather with family and friends much as we do in the summer time but there is a different feel to the gathering. Something is different about when we get together at this time of the year as opposed to the middle of July for a picnic. There is a sense of joy and wonder even though we may not give voice to these things. We may very well exchange gifts with these friends, but even if we don't, there is a distinct feeling that we seldom feel throughout the rest of the year. We feel that we are actually gifts to one another.

Why all of these feelings? Why do we run about collecting goods, giving them away to those we feel closest to? Why do we bother to put in hours upon hours at work and then, at the end of such a busy day, exhausted, we head out to the local merchant to pick up a few "last minute items"? Have we lost our minds?

Some would say that we have. Others don't know for certain why we do all of this, we just know that in December at this time of year, it is what we do!

Pause for a moment, though, and contemplate the reason behind all this hubbub. Why do we often drive ourselves crazy going through these annual rituals? The answer is quite simple, really. The reason for all of this activity, the reason for all the gift giving and warm feelings is the reason for our very existence--Jesus Christ.

We are not simply celebrating the birthday of Jesus. He wasn't even born at this time of year! We are celebrating in our gatherings, our gift giving, our shopping, and all the other activities we take on at this time of year because we know that we owe our lives and eternal existence with God to Him.

This is not only a sacred season, but a season of humility. Not our own humility for very few of us could truly be called humble! This is a season that celebrates not only the birth of the Son of God, but also a time to contemplate and remember the humility of God. God, humble? How?

God, the Creator of the universe, is far above us in every way. He is perfection. He is dignity. His is integrity. He is all that is good. He is love. Because of His great love for us we came into being. And because of His endless mercy, we have eternal life if we but follow His will. The greatest act of humility any one of us could ever witness is that of the Creator becoming a part of His very own creation for the express purpose of rescuing us, His very creation.

This is the Incarnation, that special time of year when man and nature bow in humility before the God of us all. It matters not whether you are Christian or Jew. Muslim or Mormon. Hindu or Buddhist. The Lord God is God of us all and we all owe our very salvation to His saving works. This is truth, truth that Jesus would speak of to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, some thirty-three years after the event we are about to celebrate later this week. The more we truly understand the great humility that God has shown in this act of Incarnation, the more joy we will begin to experience. The lights and decorations of the season will take on an even greater warmth and glow. Our customs and traditions will become more meaningful because we have returned to our spiritual roots. Our joy will be more complete because we have paused, thought, contemplated why it is we do what we do at this time of year.

So let us join together in our families and amidst our friends and celebrate one another as the Creator celebrates us. Let us place our lives ever in His presence so that we may never forget that the reason we celebrate this season of Christmas has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him. As our minds travel back through two thousand years of history to that scene on that chilly night in Bethlehem, let us gaze upon the face of the Christ Child and give Him thanks and homage for His saving presence and thanks for one another through whom we experience in the greatest of ways, His love!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"As You Did It To One of the Least. . ."

For centuries, an argument has been waged about whether or not we are our brother's keeper. The question, based on the passage in the Book of Genesis where God asks Cain where his brother Abel is after Cain has killed Abel, is one of the most profound that we can ask ourselves at this time of the year.

We are in the midst of what we call the giving season. It is a time when thoughts of what to buy family and friends for Christmas takes center stage. We rush to malls, to department stores, to box stores, or go online to purchase the latest fad or trendy item. We decorate our homes in honor of the upcoming celebration. We reunite with those who we may not have seen since last year at this same time. Our lives are a blur as December speeds by at an incredible speed. And, before you know it, Christmas dinner at grandma's and grandpa's has been enjoyed, the dishes washed and put away, and the treasures so sought after have emerged from their cocoons of brightly colored paper and ribbon. 'Tis the season for celebration and rightly so, for this is the season that we celebrate the coming of the Savior into the world to redeem us.

During this time of preparation as we hurry about, one of the most familiar and best loved customs we all encounter is that of the bell ringer posted outside nearly every business. Volunteers brave sometimes brutal temperature to ring simple little bells to gently remind us of the needs of so many others. Many of us dig into our pockets for loose change to put in the little red kettles. Once our deposit is made and "Merry Christmas" is exchanged with the ringer, we go on our way seldom giving further thought to those to whom we have just contributed. Life just seems too busy to dwell on the sad plight that so many others endure. And, besides, by giving to the little red kettle, we've helped out.

While this is true and I am not disparaging anyone who gives to the needy at this time of the year, I would like to urge you to give further thought to the people you have just reached out to help.

Who, among those who may be reading this at this moment, knows what it is to be homeless? Who among most of us knows the agony and the pain of the uncertainty of not knowing where your next meal may be coming from? Do we truly understand what it is like to be faced with living in the open on bitterly cold winter nights under overpasses, in dark alleys, or anything that may give us shelter from the often deadly winds and the chill they bring? Does any of us know what it is like to go weeks and perhaps months without bathing, walking the streets in tattered and torn clothes and in shoes that have been worn so long that there is barely a sole between us and the sidewalk? Has any of us experienced carrying around our worldly possessions in a couple of plastic bags as we make our daily rounds of hotel and restaurant dumpsters for our daily bread?

There are nearly countless numbers of people, men, women, and children, doing these things-and more-right now just to survive. Not far from where you live, there is likely to be someone trying to find a "warm" place in which to spend the night out of harm's way and the below zero wind chills sweeping through December. Many may have been only a few weeks ago, in circumstances similar to yours. Perhaps they had a job and were able to pay the mortgage or rent, put food on the table and even have a little left over for some much needed relaxation. And then came the announcement that the job was being eliminated due to the slumping economy. Many, having never been faced with such a possibility, simply panic, not knowing what to do or to whom to turn. The fact is that none of us knows when or if we may have the same things happen to us.

We who have been blessed with abundance must do whatever we can to ease the burdens of those who have little or nothing. And we must do so year round, not just during the Christmas season when we are reminded of such unpleasantness. What have you done to reach out to the poor? Each individual has to decide what they can do and then simply do it. You do not have to do anything spectacular. It can be as simple as donating canned goods to the local food pantry. You may volunteer to teach reading to an adult who never learned how to read thus opening the door up to possible more gainful employment. You may chose to send a financial contribution to a favorite charity.

Whatever you do, do it with the following words in mind. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." (Mt 25: 40) It is a reminder that nothing is done in vain as long as we do it to honor Him who came among us at this time of year. When we reach out to others we reach out to the very source of life. What better way to usher in the Christmas season than to meet Christ in the very hearts and souls of those who are so needy. Celebrate your blessings with others and you will become a blessing to them. This will make for a truly Merry Christmas far beyond any other gift!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Not One. Not Two. A Riddle.

Advent is a time for reflection and a time for seeking. We reflect on our lives and how we may have affected those around us during the last year. How were we Christ to others? Did we contribute in some way to those who have less? Did we help others who are seeking the truth by our example of a life lived in the framework of the gospels? How are we doing on our search to find God in our lives? Do we recognize Him in others? Have we looked inside ourselves to see if we are bearers of the Spirit of God?

Far too often we search for God in the wrong places. God is not in any one place. As a matter of fact, since He is spirit, it is impossible for Him to be in a "place" as we understand it. Yet, He is here, among us, and if we let Him, He will guide our lives through the good and bad days that we all encounter.

This is the riddle of life. Where do we encounter God, become one with Him? Where in this chaotic and seemingly despondent world can we unite with God so that life makes more sense? Search within, not without. You may be surprised what you find on this journey inward. As we ready ourselves for Christmas and the joyful celebration of Christmas, we must remind ourselves that this world is still in need of the saving power of Jesus Christ. With wars, economic strife, political upheaval, the threat of nuclear arms buildup, and the erosion of the moral base of society, it seems that we are as much in need of a Savior now as we were two thousand years ago.

Seek God in your own way, but seek Him with all your heart. These days ahead of the celebration of Christmas, spend a few moments every day searching deep within you for that elusive unity with the Father of us all. Perhaps the little riddle below will spur you on to more carefully examine your inner life and your life with God.

"How does one seek union with God?" the seeker asked.

"The harder you seek," the teacher said, "the more distance you create between God and you."

"So what does one do about the distance?"

"Understand that it isn't there," the teacher said.

"Does that mean God and I are one?" the seeker asked.

"Not one. Not two."

"How is that possible?" the seeker said.

"The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and the song. Not one. Not two."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day. Aids is not a subject that is not discussed that much any longer. I remember when Aids was first identified as a disease, there was almost no other talk. It was the "Gay man's cancer." There was no cure, nor was there any treatment for the disease and death was a certainty. Every time someone was diagnosed as HIV positive it was a given that what would follow would be a rather short but extremely painful slide into death.

In the ensuing years, much has been done to combat this dreadful disease. Drug cocktails have been developed to slow down the progression of Aids but there still is no cure. However, just because someone is diagnosed as being HIV positive is not the inevitable death sentence that it once was.

While Aids is still very much present in the United States, Africa is plagued by the illness. Thousands of men, women, and children are dying. The agonizing death has spread to all corners of the continent. The United States has led the way in providing the medicines to combat the progression of the disease. Still, this aid is not enough as the epidemic continues to spread wildly.

Aids has touched my life on occasion. Years ago I spent a lot of time in the theatrical world. During this time I met several delightful people who were very talented and creative. They were such fun and great to be around both on stage and off. One of these people named Robert, had never acted in a show but loved the theatre. After auditioning for a part in a show, he was rewarded with the role. He was ecstatic and scared to death all at the same time. He was terrible in rehearsals. He had a hard time hitting his marks. He seemed to be unable to memorize any line no matter how simple it might be. Yet, he pressed on.

The night the show opened, Robert was as nervous as I have ever seen anyone before going on stage. All of us in the cast wondered how in the world he would get through the performance. However, once the lights went up and he stepped on stage, he became a new man. His performance crackled with energy. He stole every scene he was in drawing raucous laughter from the audience. In short, he was a big hit. At the curtain calls, when he came out for his bows, the audience roared their approval. We were all gratified and had all learned something of persistence. Not long after the show, he moved to Texas for job reasons.

Six months or so passed. Time went on as usual. Then, one evening as another show was about to open, a young man with a couple of friends came backstage to greet the cast. He looked vaguely familiar but was frighteningly thin and very frail looking. At first, most of us thought that this was a friend of someone in the cast. As it turned out, he was a friend of us all. For here, in front of us, was Robert who had, months before, struggled so hard with his first role on stage.

While we were all thrilled to see him, we were also stunned by his appearance. What had happened to this previously very healthy young man? Aids. You see, Robert had, in the ensuing months of his departure, contracted HIV which quickly progressed into Aids. His once lively eyes now sunk deeply into his head. Pain emanated from them even though he still flashed his bright smile quickly and often. He looked brittle as though if you touched him too hard bones would break. His voice was weak and just walking across the floor caused him to be out of breath. He still had his great sense of humor and his can-do attitude was still infectious. However, he was but a shadow of himself.

About three weeks after his visit, we received word that Robert died quietly in his sleep in the middle of the night. He had touched all of us deeply with his spirit. It was an honor knowing him and I'll never forget the impact he and his remarkable sense of life had on me.

Robert was gay, but the disease that took his life at age 32 was not a "Gay man's cancer." It was Aids. On this World Aids Day, it is time for all of us to pause to remember the victims of this horrible disease. We have to unchain ourselves from the thoughts that this disease is one that mainly effects gay people. This is a disease that takes the lives of thousands of ordinary people every year. It is not as important to concentrate on how the disease may have been contracted as it is in developing a cure. We need to leave our judgements at the curb and see the victims of Aids as vulnerable, suffering human beings and give them the dignity they deserve.

Today, I remember Robert and those many thousands of others who have died over the years. They are our brothers and sisters in our humanity and we do need to reach out to them in their moments of need. Today, all of us need to spend just a moment in thought and prayer for these victims and their families. May God grant all of us the wisdom to touch their lives in similar ways that Robert touched mine so many years ago.