Wednesday, December 5, 2007

World AIDS Day(s) Memorial: The Quilt Over Time

Today, after taking me to the cat clinic to pick up Sophia's new fluid bag and line and needles, and then taking me to Whole Foods to buy food I don't have to cook because my oven is broken, my cat-sitter took me to Grace Cathedral to see the 28 panels of The AIDS Memorial Quilt exhibited in the nave there now. The panels will be exhibited there till this coming Friday. This is the fifteenth anniversary of The Quilt.

I expected to be moved to see that many pieces together again, and to see them in such a dignified, protected feeling space. Quilt panels are on constant revolving display, but the power, to me, is in seeing the pieces - so personal - together in such numbers. The last time I saw them was the last time it, assembled as one whole, was small enough to fit on the Washington mall, in October, 1996. So I felt like I needed to go see at least these 28 at Grace before they take them down. I just felt like I needed to go. Maybe even for as an impersonal reason as to be able to say that I went to see them for this blog.... I don't know. (Writing, and writing in my head ahead of myself can sometimes move me to do things I stall on otherwise.)

So for whatever reasons I had to go, I did not expect to be socked in the heart like this time. More than any other time. It was a foggy morning so the stained glass did not light them. It was too dark up there to read some of the small and high ones. But they were together.

Arthur Ashe's was there. Some names I know I used to know, but couldn't place. There were several Episcopal priests'. Many of people who died in the 80's. Some from Texas. The one that hit me first was for a Douglas Lowell. I don't know anything about who he was. It said, "Old years pass by. Love Stays."

There was one of a dark snowy sky. You couldn't tell what were supposed to be stars or flakes of snow. It said in white paint in the sky, "Through the years, we will all be together," and the word "together" was smear-faded into the night sky. There was a red ribbon upside down on the snow on the ground. Like blood on snow.

The most moving individual quilt panel I have ever seen I saw as I was coming down an escalator in an airport in South Africa. (I don't remember if it was in Johannesburg or Durban. It was in 2000 - the year of the Durban World AIDS Conference.) I have a picture of it. When I have access to a scanner, I will upload it here:

This quilt piece was a white field, without names or dates on it. There was a black fabric silhouette of a curvy woman with her arms open. Below her and to the right at some distance there was a black fabric silhouette of a baby with its arms open. Under the baby, in red, was the word "sick." Under the mother, in red, was the word, "dead."


Merelyme said...

i have tears in my eyes...i can't even imagine the profound effect seeing this up close would have. i have no words...

+PHc said...

Thank you Merelyme. It's impossible for me to know if people who weren't living those times would still be affected. And the lessened number of those of us who are still surviving from those times are so scattered now. Our demographics so divisive. Our medical experiences and prognoses so individual - we no longer have that profound - although profoundly painful - bond. And almost all the people I know who are positive were diagnosed so much more recently, what the words "HIV" and "AIDS" mean to them have almost nothing to do with what they will always mean to me. I don't feel like I am dying of those words anymore, I feel like I'm dying of isolation, and of the grieving that no one seems to remember.

I imagine people who have survived other mass tragedies are deeply affected by their other kinds of memorials, but I am grateful that this Quilt memorial to mine is something soft and fragile and recombinant and colorful. Something that you could feel like you could wrap yourself up in and weep in the privacy of all its personal disclosure.

Your being affected by it from a distance brings tears to my eyes now.

Casdok said...

I had tears to. Great post.

Patty said...

I just found your blog through Merelyme. Profound blog and I promise to visit often. A very touching account of seeing the quilt panels. I cannot in any way begin to understand what it felt like for you, but your words painted a picture I could see