The AIDS Memorial Quilt

I’m not sure what the point of this will be, so if you’re expecting something well-framed and crafted you might want to leave now.

While browsing around aimlessly on the internet, I came across the online archive of the AIDS memorial quilt, and I was struck with a profound sense of… injustice. Frame after frame, life after life, thousands of people rendered down to nothing more than cloth and memories. Some were saints, some were villains. Most were just… people. They lived, they loved, they struggled, they triumphed, and then they died. How many people will I never have the chance to befriend because they were in the wrong place, with the wrong person, at the wrong time? How many families still bleed from the sudden loss of one who should have had many years left? How much have we lost to… a fluke?

I was touched by the Vietnam memorial, horrified by the Holocaust museum, but this… is just so different. Its too much. Where is the compassionate God in all of this? People killing people is wrong, but at least I can understand human nature. We have free will. AIDS is no choice, only random chance. Anyone can get it, and they will die. Some slowly, some fast, all with pain. For a large portion, the cause of death will be listed as something else. Where is the good in it? Why would God inflict such horror on people without discretion, reason, or hope?

Where is the justice in such a world?

The Quilt has had the desired effect on you.

Everything you have said has been said before, often, and with rage.

Sadly, there are no easy answers.

There is a wonderful book about the AIDS quilt with pictures, letters and text. And, of course, if you *ever[/] get the chance to see the real thing, don’t miss it. Making a quilt for a lost friend… sharing that experience with other people who miss him or her… that’s something, too.

I used to live down the street from the Names Project Headquarters when I lived in San Francisco (I believe they’ve since moved). It was always so sad seeing more and more panels added.

I understand your deep sadness all too well, and I share it. I lost a very good friend to AIDS…a wonderful, loving man who brought sunshine into the lives of everyone who knew him. And I was priviledged to be able to make a square for an AIDS quilt in his memory. I will always be grateful that I was honored to be asked to DO this.

But at least…at LEAST these people are not forgotten. They have been memorialized by the people who loved them, in a very personal and loving way. They may be gone, but they are in NO sense of the word forgotten.

This may sound trite, but a good friend has said to me…“The world isn’t FAIR…it is only round.” For some reason, I find this to be a most profound statement…and very true.

Go rest high on that mountain, Jim my love. Your time on earth may be through, but you will NEVER be forgotten. I will ALWAYS love you. You graced my life with your presence, and I was blest to have you in my life.

When the quilt visited Topeka many years ago I noted that many panels had the usual stats “Born xx/xx/xx,” and “Died xx/xx/xx” Then I came to a panel that was different. He must have been a religious person, because it said “Born xx/xx/xx” and “Reborn xx/xx/xx.”

After consideration I decided that that was the way my own tombstone will read.


Just because.

AIDS is a disease, and it is YOUR responsibility to avoid catching it! This idea that the victims of AIDS are special is absurd…why don’t we have a quilt for the “victims” of syphilis? Or a quilt for the “victims” of alcoholism?
The politicization of AIDS is one of the strangest phenomenom of this age…here you have a dreadful disease, but one that is easily preventable (if you have at least a modicum of respect for your own body-don’t share needles, don’t have unprotected sex, etc.)
Yes, people who got AIDS before the mode of transmissionwas known deserve sympathy-but now? Give me a break, the only “award” these dopes should get is the “stupid” award! Or, to quote George on SEINFELD:
“the jerk store called, and they said they were out of you!”

ralph124c, to say I’m disgusted would be an understatement.

  1. You presume to know everyone who has caught HIV since the late '80s and how/why they did. Your disdain and sweeping generalizations are unwarranted, unecessary, and unfeeling.

  2. Syphilis can be treated and overcome. Alcoholism can be treated and overcome. AIDS is lethal. All modern medicine can do for someone is delay the death sentence.

  3. Shit happens even to the most cautious and alert folks. Condoms can break, you know?

  4. Regardless of how one gets it, AIDS is a tragedy. To call everyone who has caught it “stupid” and unworthy of sympathy is ridiculous.

  5. The quilt is not about people with AIDS. Its about the people living without a friend, family member, or spouse. Its about grief and the search for healing. Its about memorializing someone whose life was hardly “stupid” or “without a modicum of respect”.

The only jerk I see here is you, hon.

Dear Priam-

Thank you for saying what I was thinking, but much better than I was going to say it. And much more tactfully than I was going to say it too, which is why I didn’t reply when I first read the post just previous to your last one. I thought I had better calm down before I opened my mouth and said something I was going to need to apologize for later.

Well said.

Apparently, unlike the majority of humankind, Ralph has a complete handle on his own health behaviour. Tell us how, Ralph?

It should be noted, however, that the October, 1996 “Quilt in the Capital” display on the lawn of the National Mall in Washington, DC was the last display of the entire quilt because there is now no area large enough to show every piece together. As it was, the size of the quilt at that point was such that it was nearly two miles long. Very little of the grass of the Mall lawn was visible beneath the fabric over that weekend. Considering that fewer than 1/10 of those who have died of the disease had a quilt panel and that each panel was the size of a human grave, standing at the top of the Mall and looking out and realizing how many people were represented there was one of the single most heartbreaking and enraging experience of my life.

Over 42 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and another 22 million have already died. (Those are actually 2001 numbers, the latest I could find, the numbers are undoubtedly much higher now.) Are you really, truly so unaware that you believe that those 64+ million people all contracted HIV through their own chosen behavior which was undertaken with an awareness that they might end up with a deadly virus as a result?

If so, ralph, how about if you tell that to the hundreds of children who have patches in the AIDS memorial quilt, or the hemophiliacs who are represented because the blood products that they were counting on to save their lives were tainted? Why don’t you go tell that to Arthur Ashe’s widow or Jeanne White, Ryan’s mom? How about if you find the loved ones of the thousands of people who died before the virus was ever even identified and before the means of transmission were known, and tell them? Why don’t you go tell that to the hundreds of little girls being raped because people have spead the lie that having sex with a virgin will take away HIV? Why don’t you go and tell the 11 million children who are orphaned because their parents both died of the disease, a number which may be 20 million by the end of the decade that their parents were just irresponsible and didn’t care?

You are right, people do have a responsibility to themselves to keep themselves safe. But this thread wasn’t and isn’t about that. This is about mourning the people who are lost, many of whom died from no fault of their own. Three people I love have patches in that quilt, and they’re among them, people I miss every blessed day.

Instead of barging in threads and spouting off your ignorant, stereotyping blanket condemnations, why don’t you go get yourself a little bit of education and whle you’re at it, a little tact, then try to do something to help fight this pandemic instead of just soapboxing about it.

How do you get to see every patch? Crawl on it?

From what I understand, its set up in panels of patches with space to walk between them

Ralph, you need to take a good, long, hard look at the mirror and think about the person you’ve become. A decent person would be ashamed to have written such hateful and uninformed comments. Go educate yourself.
**Priam, while I agree with you that the Quilt is emotionally powerful, I have grown tired of it over the years. Sure, when Cleve Jones and the Names Project came up with the idea to create a visual memorial.agitprop piece to demonstrate the human toll of AIDS, AIDS was still new and frightening and it had been ignored by the Reagan administration.

But now it’s 20 years later and AIDS has, for better or worse, become just another element of outr daily environment. AIDS cxonsciousness has totally permeated our society, so the Quilt’s propaganda aspect is no longer necessary.

Now, I thionk, the AIDS Quilt has become counterproductive. It takes a lot of money to store and maintain, money that could be beter used for HIV prevention and education. The Quilt does not educate–it inspires strong emotion and provokoes a cathartic cry, but it does nothing to educate or to prevent future HIV infection.

And just from my own aesthetic POV, teddybears and glitter are way overdone.

Ralph, I think I can understand your point about people engaging in risky behavior and reaping the consequences. However, IMHO the consequences are drastically out of proportion to any judgment you make of the offense.

I’ll say one name to you, and expect you to do a Google search on it, and then decide what he did to deserve his fate: Ryan White.

Then I’ll tell you my own AIDS story, one rare in America but extremely common, so I’m told, in Africa: *the only person I have known who has full-fledged Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome, as opposed to perhaps being HIV+ without symptoms, is a chaste woman, presently divorced (for good reason) from the ex-husband who slept around before marriage, including apparently with someone HIV+, and gave it to her.

Obviously she was terribly evil in having had sex with her husband, right?

It’s a disease – one absolutely terrible, in that it subverts the body’s natural healing mechanisms into its service, and at present incurable. It’s not God’s judgment on those who sin – unless the JWs are right about blood transfusions being sinful. :rolleyes:

Priam, somebody else has said it, but I think it needs reinforcing – the quilt, like many another thing people do in memory of those they loved who are now gone, is a way to say, “They’re gone, but not forgotten. The love we bore for them will keep them alive in our memories.”

Sometime in the early 1970s, Zilpha Duggan Holsenburg died in Watertown NY. She was the childless widow of Ralph Holsenburg. But in 1946-47 she took in a newlywed couple and became honorary Granny to their baby girl, and she doted on her sister-in-law’s baby grandson, and as they visited her in their childhoods told them about each other.

Barb and I grew up to become friends and then marry each other, and we will never forget her.

She didn’t die of AIDS – she died of congestive heart failure and being a very old woman. But the point is just the same – though she had no blood descendents, and only me as kin who survived past 1984, her love keeps on keeping on. (As I write this, I realize for the first time a part of what moved Barb and me to take in the boys in 1991. Thanks, Aunt Zilpha!)

The men and women who died of AIDS are people who will live on in the memories of those who knew and loved them. Gay or straight, druggie or straight, hemophiliac or not, they were people, and they loved and were loved.

And Ralph? Go tell your opinions to Jesse Helms – who has your opinion of risky behavior, but is trying in his old age to help combat AIDS in Africa. Maybe you can learn compassion from him!

gobear I disagree with you that AIDS consciousness has “totally permeated our society” and that the AIDS quilt is not educational. There are way too many people who still believe that AIDS is a “gay disease” who are educated by the existence of the panels for non-gay people they may see displayed. Whether the educational benefits outweigh the good that could be done by using the funds used to maintain the quilt for other AIDS education efforts I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s fair to say flatly that the quilt has no educational value.

FWIW and perhaps in the interest of full disclosure (although I think I’d feel the same way regardless) I’ve worked with the quilt twice, once formally with a partial display at my university and once informally following its exhibition in DC after the 93 March.

Ralph you are twit of the highest order. When my mother gave birth to my brother in the 80s she lost a lot of blood and had to have a transfusion. A few years ago we got a note that there was a possibility she had been infected with HIV, and she would have to be tested. Do you have any idea how that felt?

This isn’t the pit, so I won’t say what I want to, just that maybe you should go away.

gobear, sometimes people NEED a visual aid that provokes a cathartic cry in their heart and soul in order for them to really understand things…and therefore enourage them to help in some way.

I believe that there are now more than the one quilt? That was my understanding when I was asked to make a square…that it wouldn’t be in the initial quilt, but one of the others. But maybe I misunderstood.

In any case, I am very proud to have contributed to something that might touch someone’s heart to DO something.