Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Power of Hope: In the Arsenal against HIV, Hope Is the Weapon That Strengthens All the Others. Jerome Groopman and Activist Jonathan Perry Explain

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Power of Hope: In the Arsenal against HIV, Hope Is the Weapon That Strengthens All the Others. Jerome Groopman and Activist Jonathan Perry Explain

Article excerpt

Jonathan Perry was 25 years old when he learned he was HIV-positive. For the next year and a half, the Johnson C. Smith University student did his best to disappear from the world. If he couldn't get his food delivered, he didn't eat. If his professors didn't send him his assignments, he didn't do them. He flunked classes. Rumors spread around campus that he was dying. He wasn't--but he certainly wasn't living.

Perry came out of his haze a different man. Still HIV-positive, he had discovered an essential component to his survival--hope. "I didn't want to live my life with people hanging my status over my head," Perry, now 30, remembers. "No one was going to control me with hearsay. I was taking my power back."

To the uninitiated, hope can be tenuous. It's not that it doesn't exist; every kid with a Christmas list knows better than that. It's just that hope gets shaky when it's aimed not at a new bike but at more elusive desires like health, happiness, and equality. Suddenly, hope is an act of faith or a show of optimism, something you blindly trust or inherently possess. It's an indescribable state of grace peppered with wishful thinking.

But to physician Jerome Groopman, chief of experimental medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, those concepts represent false hope. True hope isn't the kind of thing you read on a bumper sticker. "Optimism and hope are often used interchangeably, but they're different," he says. "Hope is clear-eyed. It looks at all of the obstacles, pitfalls, and potential problems in a realistic way. And through all that it sees a possible path to a better future. It's the opposite of passive."

Groopman should know: He's the author of The Anatomy of Hope, a book he wrote in response to his more than 30 years watching patients employ true hope to combat illnesses like HIV and AIDS, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.

"I think about the people I cared for in the early days of the AIDS epidemic," says Groopman, who was practicing at the University of California, Los Angeles. "I would have 20 people die a year, and they were young--18, 22, 30 years old. A lot of people in the scientific community didn't think we could develop medicines to combat this. Others would say, 'Well, we have to try.'"

Ultimately, the latter group would discover protease inhibitors, which spread more hope among gay men and others struggling with the disease. Hope isn't a magic wand, says Groopman. It's a realistic, hard-nosed assessment of your options. "Hope helps you see, as hilly as possible, the terrain you have to traverse."

It's the opposite of disappearing. Perry's hope prompted him to create the African-American Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Education and organize forums on diversity and sexual minorities at JCSU. He distributed condoms from his dorm room, and the university flew its first gay pride flag under his watch. In 2004, during his senior year, he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about collegiate life on the down-low.

Robert Kertzner, a clinical and research psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center, might describe Perry's activism as "textbook." "the more possibilities gay men have in how they think about and lead their lives, the more hopeful they feel," he says. …

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