Journey to the Center of Our Hearts
In his new memoir, actor and AIDS activist Nicholas Snow takes us on a journey to the center of his heart and offers a blueprint for reaching a complete end of the AIDS epidemic
by Alina Oswald
Sometimes it is as much about the destination as it is about the journey, especially when the experience, as a whole, enables a process of rediscovery of self and a reevaluation of life. Such an idea comes to mind upon reading Life Positive: A Journey to the Center of My Heart, a new book by foreign correspondent, actor, activist, singer, songwriter, and media personality Nicholas Snow, who delivers a candid story about the power of perseverance and the necessity of believing in and following one’s dreams in spite of all odds.
Without any money and without much of a support system, and while in a foreign country, Thailand, the author used his song, and then his written word, to reach millions of people with his AIDS story and its lifesaving messages. He did it on behalf of anybody fighting the pandemic.
Nicholas Snow, an openly gay, HIV-positive, multitalented artist and now activist, delivers his messages to a worldwide audience in as many ways as he has talents—through his written word, his music (“The Power To Be Strong” HIV Testing/Safer Sex Awareness song has been made available on-line in twenty different languages); through the work he has done for the likes of PT (Pink Triangle) Foundation and Malaysian AIDS Council in Kuala Lumpur; and, since July of last year, through his popular BlogTalkRadio show, SnowBizNow, that has now reached over one million listeners.
Considering all of Snow’s achievements and his remarkable journey through life so far, a simple question that comes to mind would be: How does he do it all? When I ask, the author mentions sheer determination. “I draw my strength from the family that gave me life and raised me,” Nicholas Snow tells me over the phone, “from my ongoing spiritual quest, participating in a twelve-step program, connecting to a higher power.” He also adds to the list having the privilege of learning from people, throughout his life’s journey.
His answer comes through in his new book, which he calls “a reality show on paper.” Snow zeroes in on the core message of Life Positive: “Every single person has a tremendous amount of power, if they simply choose to express it. We all, as individuals, are immensely powerful. We have one life to live and should make every moment count.” He pauses for a moment, as if pondering on what he’s about to say. “It’s about giving ourselves permission to be fully alive,” he continues, further explaining the message of his book. “It’s about honoring and expressing our life force in a way that makes a difference.”
In many ways Life Positive tells an intimate story as it happens, as it unfolds in real time for the author and readers alike. Written as a series of daily journal entries, it reveals the author’s innermost feelings—of insecurity, despair, and also hope—upon learning that he was HIV-positive, and takes us on his journey to the center of his heart, and also to Thailand (where he spent five and a half years) and back to the U.S. Along the way, the author provides a wealth of information about the reality of living with HIV—from exposure and diagnosis to disclosure and awareness, and also stigma—as much as hands-on advice and tips on HIV testing, prevention, and education. During the process, Snow becomes a recognizable voice in AIDS activism, and in the fight to end the pandemic.
Talking about “getting to zero,” Snow stresses the importance of “a complete end of the epidemic.” But in order to achieve this ultimate goal, there are several steps one needs to take, in order to get to that “zero”—zero deaths, zero infections, zero stigma. “The key to the end of the AIDS epidemic and [related] stigma,” he comments, “is for us to normalize the experience of having HIV, and embrace people living with HIV, and treat them no different than anybody else.” He also mentions that prejudice based on lack of knowledge, ignorance, cultural and religious beliefs stand in the way of allowing AIDS to be considered a disease like any other disease. That being said, he agrees that, in recent years, social media has made strides in helping bring the reality of HIV home to many people by making HIV/AIDS a part of an ongoing, daily conversation, and with that, “making every day World AIDS Day,” at least in part.
What sets Snow’s new book apart is its approach to today’s HIV/AIDS issues, documenting the pandemic uncut and unedited, in a time of social media and instant messages in which we live. As a result, the AIDS story it tells is quite different from that of three decades ago. What stands out is that Life Positive is not only a story about living as an HIV-positive individual, but also about living a positive life and living in the moment. Because, as the author explains, at least for the moment, compared to his life, which has gotten so big, HIV seems rather tiny.
Having spent time outside the U.S., Nicholas Snow has a more comprehensive, more complete understanding of the AIDS epidemic as a worldwide pandemic. He explains that, while in the developed countries more people have access to medications and respond to treatments, a huge challenge still remains the delivery of medications to many in the rest of the world, who do not have access to treatment.
A major factor that challenges the way many comprehend AIDS and, in turn, the goal of reaching a complete end of the epidemic is the stigma that has surrounded this disease from day one. Snow explains that, in the majority of the world, the AIDS epidemic is dramatically perpetuated by the great amount of stigmatizations and persecutions of people living with the virus. The key to the end of stigma is for every person infected or affected by HIV/AIDS to express their truth and knowledge on a continuous basis, if they feel safe to do so.
In a way, perpetuity becomes a motif in Life Positive. In the last chapter, “I Dreamed a Dream,” Snow ensures that this element of perpetuity, of continuity, reaches out beyond the pages of his book and into the lives of his readers. Some may call “I Dreamed a Dream” the author’s legacy. Snow calls it his vision. “The way I’m choosing to make my life,” he says, offering a brief excerpt, “my contributions are universally significant when I’m no longer here, expressing a life force in a way that gives a perpetual presence on the planet. A way that benefits other people.” He adds that, “the book is also a vindication of sorts, by telling the raw truth about the weaknesses and strengths I was trying to accomplish and what I ultimately accomplished…and the journey continues.”
Alina Oswald is a writer, photographer, and the author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS. Contact her at www.alinaoswald.com.