Pride Month — AIDS Memorial Quilt

A few years after Stephen died, a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, including a panel remembering him created by his sisters, came to Fresno’s Selland Arena.

According to the National AIDS Memorial, “Today, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is an epic 54-ton tapestry that includes nearly 50,000 panels dedicated to more than 110,000 individuals. It is the premiere symbol of the AIDS pandemic, a living memorial to a generation lost to AIDS and an important HIV prevention education tool. With hundreds of thousands of people contributing their talents to making the memorial panels, and tens of thousands of volunteers to help display it, the quilt is considered the largest community arts project in history.”

My girlfriend had talked to Stephen’s family, so she knew what to look for to help us locate his panel among the more than 1,000 panels covering the floor of Selland Arena.

Sure, most of the panels honored gay men like Stephen, but there were others, too. Doctors and nurses accidently pricked by needles, first responders, those who contracted the disease through blood transfusions. But most of the panels were dedicated to a generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

I was surprised. Liberace’s panel was there. So was Rock Hudson’s.

As we bumbled through the crowd, searching the handmade panels decorated with names and/or images of things the departed person loved, some panels didn’t elicit much of an emotional response from me. For whatever reason they just didn’t resonate.

But when I looked at some panels, I found myself overwhelmed by the love of the departed they displayed. This person was gone, but the people who made that panel loved him dearly. I could see that. I could sense that. The joy the makers felt simply by knowing this person came across loud and clear.

When I looked at other panels, I was taken by the piercing sting of unrelenting loss the makers felt. Some brought tears to my eyes, even though I didn’t know these people. A moment that makes one pray for mercy and a calming peace. Please, Lord — take this pain!

After much searching, we finally found Stephen’s panel, and I broke into a wide smile when I saw it. It was perfect. His panel lit up the room, exactly as he always did.

Rest in peace, Stephen. We will always remember you.