Remember Their Names
Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Sunday and I hope you are having a safe and great weekend so far. It is another busy weekend for Dab the AIDS Bear and me. The bear is at six different events in 6 different cities this weekend so stay tuned for pictures and slide shows from the events soon.
The first time Cleve Jones shared his vision for making quilts, I said to him “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” Thankfully Cleve didn’t listen to me, because his quilts turned into the Names Project, a powerful memorial for our epidemic. The AIDS Memorial Quilt became a symbol of our movement’s collective grief. It brought us together to celebrate and remember our friends and family members who were gone too soon.
In 1987, the Quilt was unfolded on the mall in Washington, DC for the first time and I volunteered to be on an unfolding team. I had no idea what to expect. Volunteers were required to attend a training to learn how to unfold the Quilt. At the time it seemed like “what the hell” did I need to learn about unfolding fabric. As I experience the training, I came to understand the huge responsibility the Names Project felt for these panels. They were more then fabric; the panels were a representation of our loved one.
It was very cool the first morning we walked on the mall. I was asked to be dressed all in white. Carefully and silently, my group unfolded sections like we had been instructed. They had a specific way to unfold that reminded me of origami. As we flicked the Quilts up in the air, they blossomed like beautiful flowers. After all the panels were unfolded, we formed a circle around the Quilt and stood in silence until they began to read the names on the individual panels.
Walking onto the mall that first time and seeing all those names was overwhelming. There was a eerie silence that was only broken by sobbing as people stood over the panels of their loved ones as the names continued to be read in the background. That was when I say my partner's panel and realized I was one of those sobbing. There were so many names and so many quilt panels.
It was just too much. Too much loss, too much anger, too much fear. I came to DC in 1985 to fight an epidemic. I promised my family that I would return soon. Two years later we seemed no closer to the end and more and more friends were dying.
Every time the Quilt came back to DC, I would volunteer and read names. This summer it will be here for the last time. They tell me its just too big. Timed to coincide with the International AIDS Conference, please stop by the mall and experience this important piece of our history, this memorial to our friends and family members, this extraordinary legacy of love and loss.
From July 21-25, 35,200 panels will be on display on the National Mall. 8,800 different panels will rotate in and out every day. For more information go to http://quilt2012.org. Consider volunteering to be on an unfolding team. It's life affirming and transformative. From my perspective, the best time to view the AIDS Memorial Quilt is first thing in the morning as it's unfolded.
It's not cheap to bring it to DC. Please make a donation or purchase some of their merchandise. Typically executive directors don't try to raise money for other organizations, but that’s how important this organization is to me and our movement.
I will be on the mall this July. If I am doing my “ugly cry”, please stop and give me a hug. I miss so many friends, sometimes it's just too much to remember all the names. That’s why it's so important to discuss the possibility of ending this epidemic. For as much as I honor and appreciate the Quilt, I look forward to the day when there are no new names to be read and no new panels to be made.
Hope you have a great Sunday!
Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.
big bear hug,