According to the most recent Religious Landscape Survey by Pew Research, 78.4 percent of Americans are affiliated with the Christian faith. Whether Roman Catholic, evangelical or mainline Protestant, most can recite the Lord’s Prayer.
“And forgive us our trespasses” or “debts,” they pray, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Most people are quick to forgive others who have slighted them. Yet many good, faithful people have trouble forgiving themselves of their own trespasses.
For 30 years the Kokomo community at-large has carried a heavy, collective guilt concerning one of its most famous sons, Ryan White. It’s time to put it down and embrace Ryan’s legacy when he’s inducted into the Howard County Hall of Legends Aug. 8.
Ryan suffered from hemophilia, an inherited deficiency in the clotting of blood. It was 1984, and the 13-year-old and his family lived on Kokomo’s South Webster Street. The Whites filed suit against one of the manufacturers of the blood products Ryan received three times each week for his hemophilia. Soon the city and, later, the world learned the middle-schooler at Western School Corp. had AIDS.
At that time, little was known about the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it only could be transmitted through sex or intravenous drug use. But others in authority, particularly President Reagan, told Americans not enough was known about AIDS for such a determination.
The only certainties: The virus was a death sentence that disproportionately plagued gay men. Then came Ryan.
AIDS wasn’t just a disease that affected homosexuals, we learned. Because of tainted blood products, young hemophiliacs all over the country — as many as 8,550, estimates the National Hemophilia Foundation — contracted AIDS.
If a 13-year-old boy could get it, anyone could get it. Many people were frightened.
Ryan was made a pariah by many in his hometown and school. Western barred him from attending class. He and his family, in effect, were run out of Kokomo.
The Whites found a new home in Cicero. Ryan made new friends in a new school. Six years later, on April 8, 1990, he died at the age of 18 — but not before he changed the world.
Because of his very public struggle with hemophilia and AIDS, the nation’s blood supply was made safe, AIDS sufferers finally were humanized and an assistance program was established in Ryan’s name.
What happened here in the mid-1980s embarrasses us to this day. But it would’ve happened in any other American small town at that time.
We deserve forgiveness, and the process starts when we forgive ourselves.