Jack Potter and David Lebe are two of the kindest and most gentle people that I have ever met. Days spent with them in their home in the Hudson Valley of New York were days filled with peacefulness, spirituality, love and a nurturing of life.....human, plant and animal. Their light and airy home is full of David's photographs, Jack's ceramics and beautiful plants, and on the outside, chattering goldfinches. They are thin and soft-spoken and seem to glide through their home and their lives.
This is a relationship that from the start was never expected to last but a few years, let alone 23. David and Jack met in 1989 in Philadelphia, through a mutual friend and AIDS activist shortly after each was diagnosed with a fairly misunderstood and often fatal disease..... HIV/AIDS.
Above and beyond the normal pitfalls and struggles faced by any couple, Jack and David have been fighting to survive for the entire duration of their relationship.
They began their union at a time when the powerful drug cocktails were non-existent. David was resigned to the fact that he wasn't going to live very long and had never been in a long-term relationship. Jack remembers, "When we first met, we were mushy and we talked about how we would like to grow old together but didn't expect to." David says, "and now we look back instead of looking forward."
As David explains, "AIDS has impacted every aspect of our lives together because...just the way we've chosen to take care of ourselves, the way we've chosen to deal with the disease, to eat, to live, to arrange our lifestyle, the amount of stress in our lives....how we cook, how we eat. It's there all the time. Finding doctors, we go to the same doctor; we go to the doctor together. We share information. We take care of each other. It's an important component of our relationship, taking care of each other." Taking medications is a timed ritual in the Potter-Lebe household.
Jack, once a horticulturalist at Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College, and David, a photographer, moved from Philadelphia to the Hudson Valley rather abruptly to escape the stress and toxic atmosphere of city life. Although Jack worked in a plant- filled environment, even the office copy machine was affecting his health. They attended a party in the country in September of 1992 and quickly decided to move to the open space to have "one last adventure." By December of that year they had purchased land and broken ground and by June were moving into their new non-toxic home strategically built just a mile from an organic farm store. Here they manage their lives with as little stress as possible. When the meals, now organic and vegan, are being prepared, they are prepared with nurturing in mind. They are not hastily made to merely fill the stomach but rather with determination to keep the entire body alive.
But even without the toxins and the stress, their lives are still at risk on a daily basis. Says David," There were times in our relationship where one or the other of us was quite sick. We had been eating macrobiotic. It wasn't working. Jack became weaker. He was thinking about giving up houseplants. He couldn't even listen to music. It was too exhausting. We didn't think he would live very long. It wasn't unexpected. We had a sort of calmness about it. It was a very peaceful time devoid of anxiety because we knew the outcome." The arrival of a white pigeon, completely out of place in the country, seemed to be a portent of death. But David battled the pigeon first with a broom and then a trap and finally prevailed. The angel of death was removed and David "saved Jack" (along with the help of some new drug cocktails).
And so they continue, trying to adhere to the key strategy that "only one of them can be very sick at a time." They both move with deliberateness about everything that they do. Each part of their day from the morning ablutions, to Jack's three-mile jogs around the hills are executed with meaning and appreciation for yet another day lived. Their home is a sanctuary to their life, not their disease.
When I drove away after spending a few days with David and Jack, it was with great admiration for their love, fortitude and generosity of spirit.