2 December 2002
In 1996, we attended the final display of the AIDS quilt in Washington, DC. It
was the final display of the complete quilt because the quilt, with over 70,000 names
included in over 40,000 panels, had already outgrown the mall area. It stretched from the
Washington Monument to the Capitol and was spilling out onto the side areas, with hundreds
of new squares turned in at that display. Short of hiring the artist Christo (noted for
unusual very large art
displays) to find a place to display it, or renting the state of Kansas, it is
unlikely that there will ever again be a display of "the entire" AIDS quilt.
I had two goals in mind for that trip. One was to volunteer to be a quilt monitor and
when my stint was over, I wanted to go looking for the square for Arthur Conrad (which I
posted a picture of yesterday).
I had a friend who was an official photographer for The Names Project, who had been so
affected by her years-long association with the quilt and who had said repeatedly that
there were miracles that took place whenever the quilt was displayed anywhere. When I got
to Washington, DC, I discovered what she meant.
It was a busy day, a warm day, and we took the metro in from where we were staying in
Gaithersburg. I rushed up the steps from the metro station to make it to the place where
all the volunteers were to gather and found my group. We had been told to wear white, so
we were all highly visible. I felt like a great white whale.
We were there to get our assignments and find out our duties. Mostly we were there to
guard a section of the quilt, to make sure that people didn't walk on it, that people were
respectful, to comfort, if that was necessary, etc., etc. Our assignments of sections were
totally arbitrary. My assignment was to the two rows that were the first, oldest, in the
quilt. Directly across the street from the Washington monument.
While I went off to look for my section, Walt went off to check out a guide to the
quilt squares, so that when my stint was over, we'd know where to look for Arthur's
I came up on my section and could not believe my eyes--there in front of me was
Arthur's square. By sheer coincidence (or one of those "miracles" that Pat spoke
of), I had been assigned to Arthur's section, and would spend two hours guarding his
square (which is in the same quadrant as Liberace's).
The coincidence doesn't end there, though. The serendipity continues.
Yesterday, I wrote an entry about World AIDS Day and I talked about Arthur and posted
his picture and a picture of his quilt square. This morning I received a note from my good
friend, Michael Sugar, who writes:
I never knew Arthur Conrad.
But when I volunteered at the quilt, I had the honor of working a particular section of
panels. My primary job was keeping people on the walkways and off the quilt panels, and
handing out tissues and hugs. During that weekend, I got to know the names in my section
very well. One panel struck me as more subtle, beautiful and stunningly moving than all of
the others. The musical sign for "eternal rest".
I decided a long time ago that I would never be able to reconcile the enormity of my
losses. One of the ways I've coped with the grief is to sort of "adopt" two
total strangers. One was a man named Alan Strunk. I have a candle in a jar that I picked
up from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after a candlelight march. On the outside of the
jar is a sticker that reads, "Light this candle in memory of Alan Strunk." I've
kept it. When I returned home from Washington, I decided to pack up and put away all the
many little souvinirs of my friends' lives that I used to have all around my apartment...
little reminders of all the friends I had lost. I decided this candle with a stranger's
name on it would represent all of them.
And I "adopted" Arthur Conrad. Again, it was too overwhelming to comprehend
the losses of all of my friends who have panels on the quilt, so I let this second
"stranger" represent all of them for me.
Your journal entry today brought me to tears. I'm still kind of shaky.
But I'm also struck by the amazing synchronicity of it. Thanks for posting Arthur's
picture, and some details about his life. I "adopted" a very special man.
The miracle of The Quilt continues.
It is a crime that we have to have a quilt to draw attention to the enormity of the
problem. It is a crime that our government gives only lip service to AIDS research. It is
a crime that we are more focused on blowing up countries than trying to prevent anyone
else from dying of this disease, that we have given only token funds for AIDS research,
that we withhold funds from countries with whose policies we disagree...that our
government is so short sighted that it can't see that its policies will result in too many
more deaths, both in this country and around the world.
The quilt will continue to grow and grow and grow. If not already, there will soon come
a day when there won't be a single person in this country who has not known someone who
died of this disease. And the saddest thing is that it didn't have to be this way.