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Remembering—One Life At A Time

Some panels have become like old friends.  You might not see them for a couple of years, but when you do, the connection is immediate.

Five times since 1998, panels from the AIDS Quilt have come to Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad for Worlds AIDS Day, December 1.  At first, the people represented on those panels were all sad strangers—men, women, and children with lives cut hideously short. But now, each new set of panels includes some that are familiar, because they've visited us before.

Those are the ones for extended family, friends and relatives of the Pilgrim community.  Blake Henry, for instance, whose three-by-six foot panel is alive with color, stitched onto a section of sky-blue sail from the boat he loved.  Tom Koehler's panel hangs above the choir where he sang.  Guadalupe Mojica's is by a stained glass window.  Panels for the support group Being Alive and the residential facility Fraternity House hang among individual panels for North County residents sewn over the years at cathartic quilting workshops. 

One double panel holds signatures of students who viewed the AIDS Quilt in 2000 at Carlsbad High School, directly across the street.  In 1998, the church was not allowed to distribute flyers to teachers at the high school. This Friday, panels will be displayed at CHS for the fourth time.   

We make baby steps of awareness at home, while the disease itself takes giant leaps around the globe.

It's difficult to grasp the concept of HIV/AIDS because it is simply too enormous.  The numbers are always staggering: so many thousands infected daily worldwide, so many thousands dying each day, tens of millions dead already, millions more certain to be infected through ignorance or carelessness or abuse or accident of birth.

For a long time, everybody with AIDS died.  It was just a question of when.

But then, finally, there were some treatments.  Miracle drugs.  Ways to hold the virus in check.  Places like Fraternity House, once essentially a hospice, began to return residents to the community, able to live and work independently once again.

But people still die regularly at Fraternity House, and in global areas where miracle drugs are unavailable or unaffordable or both, infection is still a death sentence.  Vast parts of Africa are being forever changed as families and tribes and entire towns are obliterated.  Almost three million people will die worldwide in 2006, including a thousand children every day.

The AIDS Quilt lets us translate this into manageable, understandable increments.  To individual people.  To the folks who lived and loved and died, often cruelly and always too soon.  The quilt allows us to share the lives of those who are gone, and to remember them.

Above the Pilgrim altar on a double panel signed by hundreds of visitors to the first Pilgrim exhibition in 1998 is an anonymous note: "Dear Mom, I miss you."

These aren't just numbers.  They are people.


All content © 2005-11 by Taffy Cannon.