It was 1983, a beautiful early summer evening, and I was walking around Manhattan with the future Father of My Children and his roommate. One of them told a joke, and we all laughed. I wish I could say I laughed uncomfortably, but I’m afraid I thought it was funny at the time, or at the very least didn’t think twice about laughing along.
It was a joke I won’t repeat, about people with AIDS. I was 22, and AIDS was new, not just to me, but to pretty much everyone. I was ignorant and prejudiced and embarrassed by and fearful of things and people about which I did not know much. My gay friends in college were closeted or very careful, and my gay co-workers at Scribner’s were so much the opposite that I was having trouble figuring out how I felt about homosexuality, particularly at a time when we knew so little about how the disease was transmitted and that it was going to affect all sorts of people. I caught up quickly, or at least I remember that I did, but none of that makes me feel any better about how limited my thinking was at the time.
Flash forward. It’s 2007. I ask The Princess what she would like for Christmas, and she says, "An iPod shuffle." I investigate further and decide it’s not an unreasonable possibility. I show her a website with the different colors.
After a few minutes, she turns to me and says, "I would like to have one of the red ones, since part of the money goes to help people with AIDS."
She is 12, and she is matter-of-factly accepting and compassionate. At school she has learned how to take care of herself, and she has also learned not to adopt a superior attitude towards those who for whatever reason have not been able to do so. I think her brothers are the same way. They’re giving me a shred of hope for the future of the world. It’s a small thing, the red iPod shuffle, a First World response to a global problem, but in her choosing she shows she cares. And maybe someday she’ll be in a position to act on that caring, without having to learn the basics from a place of ignorance and prejudice, the way her mother did.