Image provided by: University of Oregon Libraries; Eugene, OR
About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (Nov. 1, 1996)
just out ▼ nouombor 1, 1900 f 9
Reflections of a quilt weekend
Nine years later the AIDS Memorial Quilt is back on the National Mall: Death is the same but the living are changed
by Bob Roehr
hey arrive soon after dawn, these vol
unteers dressed in white. The sun slants
low, barely over the Capitol Building,
and the grass is still wet with dew.
Quietly, solemnly, with the precision
of a drill team, circles of eight unfold, turn, and
place each segment of the Quilt upon its assigned
plot. Then they move on to the next.
Within minutes the Mall, crossed with black
plastic walkways, has bloomed with the joyous
colors and silent tears of 70,000 dead. The testa
ments stretch a dozen blocks, from the foot of the
Capitol to the Washington Monument. They fill
the vast open space from one side to the other.
And under the trees, with each passing hour, the
number of new panels brought to this holy shrine
continues to swell.
The numbers numb your brain. It is a sea of
people wandering like lost souls amid the colorful
plots. It is too much to comprehend, like the
billions of the national debt, and it loses some of
Then your eye falls to one panel, you read the
name of a stranger from a city you have never
visited and the dates of his life, and find that he
was younger than you are, but is no more. And you
learn that he was passionate for basketball, or
theater, or his partner Jerry. And your chest tight
ens, and your eyes well full, and the numbers are
numbers no more, they are Melvin and Dusty and
George. They are friends and strangers whom you
now know. And they are gone...long, long, be
fore their time.
You listen with a half-turned ear as voices
sound from stations along the perimeter intoning
the names... “and my beautiful grandson Paul,
age 4, dead of AIDS.”
Low gasps become moans that rise as one
from the walkways.
the most festive link in the chain is the Sisters of
Perpetual Indulgence, that transvestigial clan from
At the event’s conclusion they gather on a
plaza of the Capitol to “exorcise demons” from
the building in a call and response. “The first
demon is the demon of hypocrisy, of working for
the people of America but not all the people—we
cast thee out, demons.” And the crowd joins with
their voices, “Out, demons.” Snap. “Begone. You
have no power here.”
The liturgy continued through "disinformation
and lack of access to health care for all,” “self-
loathing and homophobia,” “Newt Gingrich,”
and the “sloth” of Bill Clinton “who still has a lot
of room for improvement.” The service ended
with, “Go, and sin some more.”
rief seems to lay a gentler hand upon these
pilgrims than it first did in 1987. Then it
seemed that each block had a clutch of
family, a couple locked together, a lone man, tears
staining their faces, bodies tight with spasms. It
was as if this was the only place they could grieve
an illness kept secret, a loss not fully explained, a
Grief has not departed the Quilt, but it seems
less frequent, less gripping. The secret of AIDS
and its loss is no longer bottled up for release only
in sanctuaries such as this. It is talked about and
explained and shared when it happens. This is one
indication of how AIDS has become “normal
ized” within our society. And so the tone has
shifted. Before, grief seemed to crowd out all
other responses, now there is room for more at the
Midway along the expanse of panels sits the
red brick Victorian castle of the Smithsonian. It
evokes a custom of that era, the affinity for cem
eteries where allegorical monuments of stone and
bronze drew society to stroll graveled pathways
to contemplate truth and beauty and death.
The Quilt is, perhaps unknowingly, our rein
carnation of that spirit. It is more democratic in its
homilies, more ephemeral in its materials, but
today’s visitors seem to bring much the same
sensibility as those Victorian predecessors. They
ponder the artful stitchery, marvel at the stories
and contemplate their own mortality. It is a fusion
of folk art and high art with the lesson of our own
he days and nights are a jumble of events. It
seems that each and every organization has
scheduled a conference, a service, a fund
raiser, a protest around this gathering.
On Saturday afternoon thousands join Hands
Around the Capitol in a symbolic statement of the
need for continued action on AIDS. “Join hands.
Fight AIDS. Vote,” rings from their lips. Perhaps
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NAMES Project Foundation estimates that
1.2 million people came to view the Quilt.
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ow it is night. The Mall is a river of flicker
ing candlelight flowing slowly westward.
It parts at the tall, lit shaft of the Washing
ton Monument, then rejoins and lines both sides
of the reflecting pool, down to embrace the Lin
I think of that genius work of Nazi propaganda
The Triumph o f the Will and understand the power,
the pageantry, of fire and of massed people. The
crowd roars like some giant beast heard from afar.
It is impossible to count its numbers. Hundreds of
thousands, so many that organizers long since
have run out of candles.
Words from the stage and images from the
large tele-screens cannot match the drama of
humanity all around. Up close those small flames
paint faces from below with the familial warmth
of old Dutch masterpieces. It is from a bygone era
when man’s humanity, not his industry, lit the
dark. But here, on the stygian vastness of the Mall,
we see that light still shines within.
“We also light the darkness against ignorance,
homophobia and bigotry,” said Washington, D.C.,
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton from
the distant stage.
“Let none of us lose our determination,” urged
actress Judith Light. She chose the words of poet
Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good
night, / Old age should bum and rave at close of
day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Call for this
Brooke Winter, L.Ac.
Jan Corwin, DC
B Kip M. Hard, DC
v Valerie M. Lyon, MS, LMT
^ Su zan n e Scopes, ND
- Elizabeth Carlson, DC, L.Ac.
Patricia Norris, BS, LMT