This week I heard of the death of Patrick Bommarito, DJ, and long-term Tokyo resident. I had met Patrick only a few times over the years. The first time his reputation as an abrasive, highly outspoken AIDS activist preceded him. He had contracted AIDS in the early 90s and, after coming to Japan and seeing a lack of knowledge here, had decided to educate the country about the disease. It is little consolation that Patrick outlasted AIDS – he did not die of the disease.
However, when I met him at a party, he was delightful. Less larger than life that I had imagined, and very polite. I could see that he cared passionately about living his life, and the life of others. I understood then how difficult it must have been for him to step out in Japan and say he had that fearful disease.
Having been away from Japan for a few years I decided to check out Patrick’s Facebook page to see how he had been doing. To my horror and disbelief I saw multiple increasingly desperate posts asking for money, food and medicines.
Christmas 2012: THE WORST CHRISTMAS OF MY LIFE – WHERE IS THE LOVE?
I have 280 yen in my wallet and 0 in my bank account. I have very little food in my kitchen and nothing for Xmas. I can not really walk because of my knee injury. Emotionally I am in a very dangerous state. I feel very little Love from anywhere or anyone. Did I do something to have Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) or even GOD to forget me or even HATE ME?
Jan 23, 2013: We Need Your Help Today. Our food finished today and our electric power was cut. Until we can get our welfare money and move to Chigasaki at the beginning of next month we need at at least ¥30,000 to survive.
April 1, 2013: Moved house. In pain, cannot move. I only have ¥23 to Wednesday. There’s no food. No electricity.
An attempt to fundraise online starting in September, 2012, titled “Learning to Walk, Again! OUR FIGHT FOR LIFE!” raised just $861 of an $8000 goal. Just sixteen people contributed.
How many people owe their lives to him bringing attention to how to avoid infection? How many relationship did he save through education? How many people were consoled by his message that AIDS is not the end of life, and that despite the disease, loving relationships could thrive?
Why didn’t the gay community rally round him? Why didn’t the party scene rally around him? Why didn’t the foreign community rally round him? Why didn’t Japanese society rally round him?
It seems that Patrick’s cries for help became static that barely registered against the clamor of our daily lives. Face down in our mobile phones we barely register the vulnerable among us.
The suicide of a close friend a few years ago brought home to me that every cry for help must be taken seriously. The worst really can happen: an untimely death and, for those left behind, the lingering question: could I have done more? I also know that it can be difficult to know how to help, especially for people who are remote, or very different from us.
The measure of our compassion is not that we give help when we want to, but when we don’t need to.
Thank you Patrick. You deserved more. R.I.P.