HIV/AIDS and forgiveness: How Judith Shaw forgave herself and the man who infected her
Judith Shaw’s boyfriend and father of her daughter sat her down some years ago and gave her the news that would change her life:
“He said, ‘I need to talk to you. I just want you to know, I have what Magic Johnson has.’ I said, ‘What does Magic Johnson have?’”
He replied: ‘He has AIDS’.”
Shaw shared her wrenching story of being infected with HIV in the director’s cut of Helen Whitney’s film Forgiveness: A Time to Love and A Time to Hate. The film, which was broadcast by PBS in 2011, explores the possibilities and limitations of forgiveness.
Although it took a long time, Shaw insists that forgiveness saved her life: “For me, if I hadn’t forgiven I would be out there, somewhere, in that world, abusing myself. I would die.”
Coming from an alcoholic family and experiencing sexual assault by an uncle starting when she was seven, Shaw had gone through a lot by the time she was told she had been infected with HIV.
Her first reaction to the news was violent anger.
“I was so angry, I was so scared,” explains Shaw. “I wanted to die, but before I died, I wanted to kill Joe. I went to his door, with the gun behind my back, rang the door bell, and he came to the door and, honest to God, I saw my daughter’s face.”
What followed were years of hating and hurting herself through drug abuse and neglect. But she also started therapy and, as she explains, she stopped hating herself, which was the first step toward forgiving herself and forgiving those who had hurt her.
“Once I was able to forgive me that freed me up to forgive everybody else. And it took a long time…to get to where I am. I forgave my uncle, because not to forgive him gives him power — and Joe for infecting me with HIV. I don’t want to live with that because I don’t want to be a bitter old woman. I want to grow old gracefully. And that’s what I intend on doing. And I am loving life. I just got married; I don’t have time to be bitter.”
Shaw now works as a the receptionist at the Virology Institute in Baltimore where she brings her experience to offer wisdom, compassion and kindness to those who are newly infected.
“I thank God for forgiveness. I’m HIV positive and living well.”