Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

A Personal View of Senseless Violence

The sights and sounds of the wreckage of Malaysia Airline Flight 17 were sickening. It is all the more sickening when the wreckage hits close to home.

hiv aids red ribbonMy wife’s nephew, Patrick Hebert, posted on his Facebook page this morning that two of his Dutch coworkers in the fight against AIDS and HIV died in the downed plane. They were en route to Melbourne, Australia to attend the 20th International AIDS conference.

As it turned out, as many as 100 passengers on the flight were HIV/AIDS experts and activists headed to Melbourne to join 12,000 like-minded and committed people at the conference.

“I had hoped to share numerous photos from the first few days here in Melbourne as we gear up for the International AIDS Conference,” Patrick wrote in an email to his father in Oregon. “But we awoke to the horrible news of flight MH17 scattered in shards across the fields of eastern Ukraine.”

“Amidst hundreds of lives shredded, we lost two close Dutch colleagues who have supported our work and provided important leadership. One was scheduled to present tomorrow at the opening day of our MSMGF Pre-Conference. Everyone feels heavy, disoriented, devastated.”

“We try to stay focused on the work and carry their spirit forward. But tonight as we worked late separating attendee badges along perforated edges and into alphabetized stacks, I lost it when I saw her name. I was working with her not two weeks ago in Amsterdam and now she and so many others have been shot from the sky.”

Senseless violence always produces tragedies. Every life lost tears away the fabric of families, communities and circles of friends. In this case, the tragedy runs deeper. Many of the people killed were people dedicated to saving other people’s lives.

The conference, in Patrick’s words, “will gather as planned to set the pace for a global response to HIV/AIDS, but our hearts will be extra heavy with these and too many decades of losses.”

Among the dead is Dr. Joep Lange, a father of four who has been a leading AIDS researcher since 1983. Lange was a pioneer in addressing the AIDS crisis and making HIV treatments available to people in the developing world. He had worked Australian and Thai colleagues to found a research program in Thailand lauded as “one of the first models of international collaboration on clinical research in a developing country.”

Patrick, who lives in New York City when he isn’t traveling as part of his work, has used his talents as an artist, organizer and motivator to advance HIV/AIDS education. His commitment to the cause is awe-inspiring and infectious.

His father, Steve, sent encouraging words to his distraught son. “‘Life’ cannot be allowed to be treated so cheaply. The entire concept of the AIDS Conference defies this ‘practice.’ All the more NEED to persevere, even under such cruel and unexpected loss.”

“I have to go to bed,” Patrick told his dad. “I’m exhausted and have to get up in a few hours for the 14-hour first day of our Pre-Conference and the installation of the participatory text piece I am launching.”

“I’m grateful you are all in my life, and I’m sending you big, if heavy hugs, from down under,”

That’s a hug all of us should cling to and share at this sad moment. It’s about the only thing that makes sense out of the senseless violence in the skies over eastern Ukraine.




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