Living with HIV Positivity
Scott Fried shares his poetic wisdom on youth and wellness
Just a few months ago, Scott Fried, health educator, motivational speaker and author, tweeted "Listen to others with the same tenderness that you would want them to listen to you until love walks into the room." As Fried stepped into the room on Friday night after Hillel shabbat dinner, the room was captivated as he prepared to deliver his message.
In the midst of the Watertown chaos that ensued on Friday, Scott Fried drove from New York City even before the suspect had been declared found to give a talk at an Oneg, a repast that takes place after dinner on Shabbat.
The event corresponds with a larger weekend dedicated to health, which Global Health Shabbat sponsored in conjunction with Face AIDS, Relay for Life and Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps to commemorate the 30th anniversary of BEMCo.
Fried's talk, entitled "I Raise My Cup in Rescue And Call On God's Name" addressed issues focused on finding self acceptance and giving and accepting acts of kindness in the midst of tragedy and trauma. Through this core issue, he addressed numerous other problems plaguing youth, including HIV. His extensive personal knowledge as someone who is himself HIV positive made his words particularly relevant.
He began the talk by saying his favorite Hebrew prayer, "Barukh atta Adonai eloheinu meleh haolam she'asah li neis bamakom hazzeh," or in English, "Thank you God, ruler of the universe, who grants me miracles, in this place."
Fried grew up in Cedarhurst, N.Y. where he was raised in a religious household. Despite the intermingling of prayers and other Jewish teachings, however, his lecture and his ideas on unconditional love resonated on a universal level.
He told the story of how he contracted HIV, a story he tells nearly every time he speaks. His diagnosis became the defining moment of his life. "There was life before HIV and life after HIV," he said.
He paralleled this personal event with national tragedies like the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Fried then followed with one of the key points of the talk, stressing that we get to choose how these tragedies will define us. "It's not the thing that happens that defines you, its what you respond to what is going on in your life that defines you," he said.
Fried's reaction was to use his illness in a positive way to spread awareness of the dangers of HIV, but more importantly, to expose the underlying societal and emotional problems that promote self-destructive behavior. "The mistake wasn't that I didn't use a condom. The mistake was that I didn't love myself enough to use a condom," Fried said.
Fried explained that the root of self-destructive behavior is that it never occurs only once, especially in relation to the unprotected sex he engaged in multiple times with the man who gave him HIV. "We are rarely ever reckless just once because of what is missing in our lives ...there are not enough people who love us for who we are," he said.
Fried told the story of going with his friend Dalton to the hospital for an HIV test. His friend went up to the fourth floor for a blood test while he got him a snack and then he sat with him in the waiting room.
His friend asked him "why are you being so nice to me?" and Fried responded, recalling his impersonal and lonesome experience waiting to hear his results some 24 years earlier, "because I love you."
In hearing his friend, Fried concluded that "The people who came before you are not doing enough of a job to prove to you that we love you." He used the human immune system as a metaphor for kindness as a form of healing.
"Tenderness and kindness and patience and being able to say to others-are ways and which we heal that emotional societal immune system," he said.
In additon, Fried used a metaphor of Jonah being swallowed by the Whale, enouraging everyone to feel their own pain and "sit in the belly of darkness."
Fried also encouraged everyone to find and be a "c'mere person," people who accept us for who we are and allow us to be fragile. "The things that we are afraid to find out about ourselves they [c'mere people] already know," Fried said.
At the end of his talk, he made a point of looking each person in the eyes for a brief moment, a practice he picked up from his father. He conceded that while this is "awkward", "awkwardness leads to vulnerability, which leads to intimacy, which leads to truth, which leads to healing," he said.
Sam Kressel '16, an attendee of the event, was moved by the talk. "I was truly at a loss for words," he said.
For Josh Luger '16, hearing Fried speak was the first of many times since he met him in sixth grade.
"Scott has been one of the most inspirational people in my life, always offering words of kindness, strength and support," Luger said. "I don't think he could have had better timing to come speak at Brandeis. It was an amazing Oneg that I would love to see continued and expanded to more events with Scott at Brandeis for a weekend."
Fried handed out bracelets to everyone who came up to speak with him after the talk, inscribed with a handy reminder of his main message: "You breathe. You belong. You are enough."