All of us knew that one day there would be a gathering to say goodbye to Ryan White. We did not know exactly when, and we hoped against hope that maybe somehow the day would not come. But it has come, and today we do not mourn a death as much as we celebrate a life.
Ryan would probably be embarrassed by all the fuss we are making over him. He did not want to be anyone special. He just wanted to go to school, play with his friends and grow up like every other kid in the neighborhood. But it was not to be.
For reasons which we may never fully understand, Ryan's life was set on a course that no one could predict and which we could do so precious little to affect. How Nancy and I wish there had been a magic wand we could have waved to make it all go away. Ryan White touched our lives in a special way. His ready smile, his youthful innocence, his simple desire to just live his life tugged at our hearts in a way we will always remember. How we wanted to hug him and make him better.
Ryan accepted his situation with awe-inspiring courage and magnanimity. He did not run and hide, and he graciously accepted the public responsibilities thrust on his young shoulders. He was patient and kind and did not wallow in self-pity. Cruelly robbed of the simple pleasures of his childhood, he had a dignity and strength that were an inspiration to everyone who knew of him. Nancy and I had the privilege of being with Ryan a few days ago in California. He was not feeling well, but he carried on with a smile and with determination. He never gave up hope, and he even spoke of going to college. He just wanted to be like the other kids.
God had a different plan for Ryan White -- a plan which we do not understand now but one which I believe with all my heart will one day make sense.
Sadly, Ryan's is not the only life to have been cut short by AIDS. In a most poignant way, he told us of a health crisis in our country that has claimed too many victims. There have been too many funerals like his. There are too many patches in the quilt.
We owe it to Ryan to make sure that the fear and ignorance that chased him from his home and his school will be eliminated. We owe it to Ryan to open our hearts and our minds to those with AIDS. We owe it to Ryan to be compassionate, caring and tolerant toward those with AIDS, their families and friends. It's the disease that's frightening, not the people who have it.
There is a tendency to measure a life by its length. But a life should be measured not by the number of years but by what happens in that life and by those whom that life touched. Our lives are better for having known Ryan White. He taught us how to live, and he taught us how to die. He will live on in our hearts forever. Ryan has gone to a better place, where there is no pain or suffering. He is safe now in the arms of God.
Ryan, my dear young friend, we will see you again.