31 March 2011


This week marks an anniversary of sorts for me. Ten years since I made the decision to resign from the Bar and let go of that official status that I spent so much time and effort acquiring and maintaining. Not an easy decision, but one probably made more inevitable by my HIV status and my own expectations about my longevity and my immediate future.

Chalk that one up as a loss.

Two things are odd about my having decided to commemorate this milestone today: that it is the tenth anniversary, and that I’m focusing on the loss.

I can hear you saying it: “What’s so odd about marking a tenth anniversary?” This is because you don’t know me as well as you might. I am a tireless warrior against the tyranny of the fives and zeroes, as I like to say. This means that I have made my whole family (except the ornery ones…you know who you are, and, more importantly, I have not forgotten who you are!) put strange times on the timer of the microwave when heating something up. Never a round number, always something with an odd number of seconds. We even had quite a time last summer when I was visiting, ensuring that we set the TV volume to a prime number. I never claimed not to be an odd duck.

The focusing on the loss thing might be less surprising. We in the AIDS movement often talk about (or hear about) losses and coping with them. Here we have something rather significant that I worked for many years to build, with firm intentions for doing something socially useful with my acquired skills, and ten years (yes, ten, *groan*) after having been sworn in as a member of the Bar in Québec, I let it go.

I did gain from my loss, if we must delve deeper into it. I gained a certain ease of my finances as I no longer had to pay those membership fees and compulsory insurance costs that did not differentiate between the guy working for a low salary in the community-based AIDS movement and the one with the wealth clients driving a luxury automobile and taking frequent trips to exotic locales.

And if I am to be completely honest, I didn’t really lose it all. I generally say — much to the chagrin of those who have heard this once too often — that I am a recovering lawyer. I will never really be free of the influence of those years I spend studying law, or explaining the rules as a provider of legal information. It’s a long, long process.

Looking back at this point, how comfortable am I with the decision to resign? I am comfortable with the choice. I took pains at the time to do things in a way that would allow for a potential return to the profession if I should ever reconsider. That possibility gets more remote with each passing year, not only from the decreasing number of years I might have left, or have left to work, but also because the task of updating my knowledge to qualify to practise law becomes more daunting as my experiences grow more remote.

I only have to worry that scientific progress in the treatment of HIV will continue to call into question the wisdom of my perspective, as it continues to push back my expectation of decrepitude and death. I guess that is not such a loss for me.


Greer said...

What an incredibly moving piece. The way you describe the loss, without self-pity or drama, gives a masterclass in just getting on with the challenges we each face. Are you sure you are not British? Could you come to London and give the natives some gentle lessons in the benefits of the stiff upper lip?

Ken Monteith said...

All my ancestors would be proud: I'm as pale-skinned and cold-blooded as the worst of them.