The Oldest Soul in the School Yard
In 1985 AIDS had formed the perfect storm of mass hysteria. A catastrophic cocktail of ignorance, death and wild-rumors-routinely-reported-as-fact on the Nightly news had whipped the world in to a wide eyed, froth mouth frenzy. We were all going to die, it was air born now, right? It was piped into the water supply by the communists, wasn’t it? It’s the bubonic plague of this generation and will surely swallow up one third of civilization. As I entered the second grade, the loud cries of the public were largely muted by my bubble of Care Bears and Fraggle Rock, until AIDS walked into my elementary school in the form of a five year old boy named Ryan Thomas.
Photo of Ryan and his Father, (from www.aclu-sc.org)
The youngest of three boys, Ryan had contracted the virus from a blood transfusion shortly after birth, arguably the worst time in history to do battle with the AIDS monster and what it had created in and around Santa Rosa Road Elementary school. His presence at the school had thrown the surrounding public and all of its housewives into a polo shirt clad lynch mob. They wanted him out. How dare a 5 year old want to go to kindergarten?! A line of station wagons pulled their kids out of school so fast only a trail of checkered Vans was left. “Mom, is it a vacation day? Why is the school so empty?” I asked from the back of our 12 passanger van as we pulled in to the lot on what I thought would be a typical fall morning. She threw the shifter bar on the steering column into park, swiveling around to look at us. “There is a Kindergarten boy named Ryan how has a disease. There isn’t a cure for it, so he will die. There are only a few ways to get it, like a blood transfusion, and that is how he got it.” She explained that we couldn’t get it from playing with Ryan, using the bathroom or drinking fountain after him and that it was OK to hug him. That morning I learned that the very thin and pale boy, Richard, who sat next to me in class, was Ryan’s big brother. Our teacher announced that Richard had a presentation for us and asked us to keep our minds and hearts opens, disregarding anything that we had heard before. Richard pushed his tiny frame out of his yellow metal desk and dragged the weight of the world to the front of the class. “I want to talk about AIDS, my brother has it.” The class was frozen on the words that came out of his burdened old soul. I’m sure I heard a lot of words spoken from the front of the class that year, but his were the only ones I remember. Later that day the playground was full of chatter about this grown-up topic. Debates about what Richard had said, what other teacher and parents said (“Better safe than sorry!”) and who was right. My mom was right, Richard had reinforced that, and no one would sway my mind. That evening, my sister who didn’t have the gift of the Old Souls teaching lowered her fork to her diner plate, “Mom, the other kids moms are saying to leave Ryan alone, like we should be scared of him.” My mom hardly looked up from the highchair that currently had her attention, to speak the wisest sentence of 1985, “You should be much more afraid of ignorant housewives than of Ryan Thomas.”
Ryan Thomas died Thanksgiving Day, 1991 at the age of ten.
I have no idea what happened to his family, or his brother Richard. But I would love for him to know how much his words impacted me. Helped me to stand up to fear and ignorance. Helped me to see through mass hysteria, right to the truth.
I almost didn’t post this. But this afternoon I read an article about a 13-year-old boy who was denied admission to school because he is HIV possitive. The world needs more Richard Thomas’s.
Teach your kids how to be like him. I’m gonna do my best.
Because this is a food blog:
In honor of Ryan, and kids everywhere with HIV and AIDS, here are 4 healthy treats. Perfect for all kids.
1. Vegan Brownies, full of healthy goodness and completely delicious. This is a post from a blogger friend of mine, Chinmayie of Love Food Eat. She cooks amazing vegan and vegetarian food from her kitchen in India.
From All Day I Dream About Food
From Cook Republic