As we stand before this portion of the far too vast AIDS Quilt, we acknowledge that we are standing on holy ground! We see this quilt as memorializing family, friends, and loved ones who died much too soon; taken away from us far earlier than we expected or they deserved. As the late Randy Shilts, who wrote the prescient book, “And the Band Played On,” and who died of AIDS, said in an interview shortly before his death that I heard many years ago, “My life is finished, but it’s not complete.” We memorialize and deal here with life interrupted! We mourn for what might have been; for all the hopes, dreams, and accomplishments that might have been realized by these precious lives, taken away from us much too soon, much too tragically. When loved ones are taken away from us, regardless of their age, it always comes too soon. Yet, when such young people die in such large numbers, the pain, the uncertainties of life, the unanswerable questions raise their heads and no amount of rationality or pious platitudes can comfort us.
We are forced to recognize, through losses as dramatic and consequential as these, that we don’t really live in “time,” but we live in “eternity.” We come to see that even if we don’t know each other, we are all really brothers and sisters, and partake of this uncertain, sometimes frightening, human condition that we frequently can barely fathom. As Jesse Jackson said upon the murder of Bill Cosby’s son, “We live as if life is certain and death is uncertain, whereas, in fact, death is certain and life is very uncertain.”
So here we are! At this holy place, consecrated by the presence of God through this quilt that memorializes the many thousands of lives and souls who touched their families and loved ones, as they now touch us, we acknowledge through our abiding faith that nothing can separate them or us from the love of Christ. As the Apostle Paul confidently wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 38-39)
For reasons that we can’t possibly know this side of heaven, we are assured by the psalmist, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15) Yet, as we look at the components of the quilt itself, we are being taught an invaluable lesson as we come to see that God uses the ordinary stuff of life in all its diversity to enable us to memorialize these precious lives and souls; the many components of this quilt teach us that God specializes in diversity, and that God demands that we embrace diversity in all of His creation.
The quilt is made up of the following materials, the diversity of which in itself reminds us about God’s love for ALL of His children: 100 year-old quilt, afghans, Barbie dolls, bubble-wrap, burlap, buttons, car keys, carpet, champagne glasses, condoms, cookies, corduroy, corsets, cowboy boots, cremation ashes, credit cards, curtains, dresses, feather boas, first-place ribbons, fishnet hose, flags, flip-flops, fur, gloves, hats, human hair, jeans, jewelry, jockstraps, lace, lame, leather, Legos, love letters, Mardi Gras masks, merit badges, mink, motorcycle jackets, needlepoint, paintings, pearls, photographs, pins, plastic, police uniforms, quartz crystals, racing silks, records, rhinestones, sequins, shirts, silk flowers, studs, stuffed animals, suede, t-shirts, taffeta, tennis shoes, vinyl, wedding rings.
This piece of fabric represented by such diverse materials, that is 1,278,675 square feet; 51.5 miles long (if all the 3’x6′ panels were laid end to end); seen by more than 15 million visitors; having been instrumental in raising millions of dollars to fight AIDS, is doing far more than accomplishing its intended purpose. It serves as a perpetual memorial to those who suffered and died of AIDS contracted in a variety of ways; it represents diversity in a world that is quick to stigmatize others due to ignorance, fear, and hatred; it shows forth the love of God through its message of love and rembrance as well as through the inspired love that initiated and continues to perpetuate this memorial to those who suffered and died from this disease, as well as all too frequently from the disease of “stigma.”
And so we dedicate this quilt in the name of God to all those who are here memorialized, to their families and loved ones with whom, by the grace of God, they will one day be reunited in a far better place, and to all of you who are paying your respects through your presence and your love for the lives and souls memorialized on this quilt.
I dedicate this quilt in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit! Amen!
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society,” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. Maneker also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.