He’s very tall and handsome, with a velvety baritone that gracefully rounds out his light Dutch accent. A big smile and large coppery-hazel eyes are topped by soft brown hair. His kindness immediately puts me at ease. I’m aware of his adept conversation skills, those which require listening as well as speaking.
Introduced, I do as most do; ask him how to pronounce his name. “Ar-yen”, says Arjen. “Europeans use the j as a y.” Then he laughs, something I’ve come to realize he does often, even though he’s dying.
Diagnosed with diabetes as a teen, he went on insulin. After 20 years, his kidneys were failing and, in 2001, a surgically implanted shunt in his arm readied him for dialysis.
By 2008, still never having had dialysis, doctors said the shunt must be surgically re-implanted. This was pause for thought. His health issues were piling up, as were the daily pills and the side effects from them, so contemplation began. On top of all that, did he want to be hooked up to a machine, for hours daily, many days a year, 35 miles away, to be sick after each treatment…?! Arjen made a huge life-altering choice; he would not take dialysis, ever. And with that, a weight was lifted from his soul. Freed from the likelihood of half-invested living, Arjen found stewardship in his gift of life.
It was months of talk and hard work – confiding with family, phone calls, signing a Directive of Care (legal last wishes), planning his funeral, declarations of love – all tinged with sadness. Rearrangements for his life and arrangements for what’s left of it (maybe 7 or 8 years) were made. Since then, he says, the floodgates have opened and he is carried upon a tidal wave of exhilarating purpose.
While his own inspirations are many and dear, none compare with his mother, Beja, who says she knew he was gay by his 8th birthday. She and the family have supported his decisions, including his breakup a year ago. “The split was best for my partner and me”, says Arjen. “After 16 years together, I could see my calling now is completely different than when we set out. There’s work to do.” And work he does, since he has nothing to hide.
His goals are few, yet specific and far-reaching. He has a history in the health profession and feels comfortable volunteering with A.V.I. (Aids Vancouver Island). Also, one of his greatest fears has been to speak in public; he hopes to remedy that in May by delivering a speech at the annual “Walk Away From Homophobia” in Campbell River. And recently he strolled in the very public “Elimination of Racism” rally while sporting the rainbow-coloured flag of the CR Pride Group. This open pronouncement of his sexuality has been another euphoric act of freedom, and he wants to support the rest of the gay community in knowing that feeling. He’s also thrilled to be learning the technical skills of web development to keep the CR Pride website exciting and current.
And finally, a goal simply for himself – to visit South Africa. With cousins in Cape Town, he’s been drawn there since a child but thwarted at every attempt to make the trip. Somehow, he hopes to fulfill that dream before he dies.
He treasures his communities and feels free to speak authentically without shame or regret, hoping to shepherd them through their fears, as he is doing.
Meanwhile, Arjen gives me flowers and a most affectionate bear hug, full of purest love and compassion. I imagine that’s what an angel feels like.
Find Arjen at: webmaster@CRPride.com or visit www.CRPride.com