Calling the Shots; or, The Coronavirus Quilt
I’m with David D. Turner whose Letter to the Editor appeared in yesterday’s Times. Here’s the whole thing.
“Recalling the AIDS Era
“To the Editor:
“Re “Few Unscathed by Toll of Virus Across the City” (front page, April 3):
“Thank you for your article on New Yorkers’ inexorably widening webs of contacts being scythed by the novel coronavirus. As a gay man of a certain age for whom the current pandemic is a second plague, I read your reporting with nauseating déjà vu.
“I don’t mean to sound churlish; my heart breaks for every lost soul, each life interrupted. But daily briefings from the president and the governor, an initial $2 trillion rescue package, a coordinated international effort toward a vaccine, fast-tracked double-blind trials exploring the efficacy of existing drugs? Where was the all-hands-on-deck posture when it was just those who lived on the margins or whom a goodly portion of polite society reviled who were being felled?
“My grandmother was a wonderful woman, but before I came out to her — and not once after — she used to call homosexuals “the others.” Let us learn from the current plague and let us long remember: There are no others. There is only us. This virus has laid bare the scary responsibility it turns out we have always had for one another. Our carelessness can kill other people. So let’s not be careless.
“David D. Turner
I was working on Broadway at the time of the first surge of what became known as HIV/AIDS. At the time, there was no agreed-upon name for it, save ‘the plague,’ and even then we lowered our voices to say it. My mother was working in the design field on the West Coast. I distinctly remember a horrified conversation with her that took place on a Monday evening.
We’d both been in meetings for much of the day on Friday. Those meetings had, essentially, reconvened on Monday minus two key players, one from her meeting and one from mine. Our colleagues had died over the weekend from what was being whispered of by then as ‘the gay plague.’ Three thousand miles apart we wept.
You would think that the ongoing lessons and heartbreak due to HIV/AIDS would function as a cautionary tale for all of us, but there is some magical mechanism in human beings that softens the memories of pain and loss over time. Perhaps this is why Alexander Pope avowed that hope springs eternal in the human breast?
It’s one reason that is given for the perpetuation of the species; women forget the pain of childbirth. Having been there myself, I wouldn’t say I’ve forgotten it. It was some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, but it was more than thirty years ago, and the memory of the pain is no longer a felt-sense memory. It’s become a ghost of a memory, almost theoretical, rather than practical in nature.
As the years have gone by, HIV/AIDS has taken on a somewhat respectable mantle as a chronic, manageable disease, but when my mom and I were on the phone, it was a Terror. It happened over and over again that we lost friends, acquaintances, and amazingly talented humans who would no longer grace the arts world as we knew it.
Then came the AIDS Quilt, known at its inception as The Names Project. Today it is the largest piece of community folk art in the world, weighing in at 54 tons.
Wikipedia tells the story of its birth. “The idea for the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt was conceived on November 27, 1985 by AIDS activist Cleve Jones during the annual candlelight march, in remembrance of the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. For the march, Jones had people write the names of loved ones that were lost to AIDS-related causes on signs, and then they taped the signs to the old San Francisco Federal Building. All the signs taped to the building looked like an enormous patchwork quilt to Jones, and he was inspired. The NAMES Project officially started in 1987 in San Francisco.”
A quilt is such a homey thing, isn’t it? Quilts have traditionally been made to celebrate life milestones: births, deaths, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, christenings, anniversaries, commemorating a life. Originally made from scrap fabric that couldn’t be put to use as it was not large enough for bigger projects.
The reason the AIDS Quilt came to mind was because of a reference in the news. “And just as the country entered life under quarantine in a patchwork fashion a month ago, it will most likely re-emerge in a similar way.”
Trump did an about-face on his calling the shots stance from three days ago. Yawn. Ho hum. No surprise there. The legal ridicule in the press could have told a kindergartner that.
The governors will make the decisions now.
Well, the governors are the only ones who seem to have been making decisions all along, and even then, not all of them. But, thank God, enough governors are savvy enough to know that unless they act in concert with one another, all we’ll be doing is passing the coronavirus back and forth across state lines till we have a vaccine.
Now, are the governors so situated that, because their responsibilities are limited to the states that elected them, they are able to make decisions? Is the federal government so impotent because it has to consider all citizens? I don’t think so. It’s not geographical.
I think the governors see their constituents up close and personal. In fact, they don’t see citizens or constituents at all, they see people, people who need what all people need. This is what I think keeps the governors in the game.
I have buckets of respect for Governor Gretchen Whitmore of Michigan. Honestly, she deserves a Purple Heart. She’s stayed the course of doing the right thing in the face of trolling in the media, in the face of demonstrating in the streets, in the face of personal attacks from the White House. I’d venture to say she stays the course because the people of Michigan are persons to her.
The AIDS Quilt was started because, according to pinknews.com in the UK, “Activists began sewing it in 1987 as a way of remembering their friends, many of whom didn’t get proper funerals or memorial services because of the stigma surrounding HIV.”
Gert McMullins was one of the first to start sewing. “Gert McMullin said that coronavirus is making her remember what it was like for the LGBT+ community. During the AIDS crisis, I could go and do something,” she told People. “But now, I can’t. I’m not used to sitting around and [not] helping people.”
That was a whup upside the head for me. Of course. That’s what we did then. We helped. We created our own memorial services. We wept together for our losses. We made altars of remembrance. We held our friends as they grieved their partners as we too grieved our friends. We swore we would always remember.
My mom, a lifelong volunteer, was drafted to chair a county task force to create a program for counties to respond to HIV/AIDS in a caring, compassionate, practical way. She went on to win an award in the design field called The Unsung Hero Award. That program became the model for county responses all over the country.
Gert McMullins has done it again. “She has dusted off her sewing machine and got to work sewing face masks using leftover fabric from the quilt. Face masks made from AIDS Memorial Quilt helping homeless people, drug users and those who support them,” read the headline.
As Cleve Jones, the activist who started the quilt said, ““We in the LGBT community understood what was happening in the early 80s. We had to create systems of care and support ourselves.”
And so here we are again, except for one crucial difference. The coronavirus isn’t targeting specific groups of people no matter how often The New York Times and other news outlets claim that X or Y symptom or Z or Q disease make one more vulnerable to it. The target is humanity.
One of my favorite bumperstickers ever reads: God Bless the World. No Exceptions.
Coronavirus is making no exceptions.
The White House issued an eighteen-page document of guidelines called “Opening Up America Again” which “provided mostly general guidance and did not confront some difficult questions, including how to finance the billions of dollars necessary for expanded testing; whether travel should be restricted between states; when the ban on international travel from Europe and elsewhere would be lifted; and how the states should deal with future shortages of protective equipment if the virus resurged in the fall.”
I have full confidence that all of these — and probably more — are questions that the governors are both asking themselves and one another. I’m also certain that the governors will not open their states until there are some mightily clear answers to these issues.
In the meantime, I’m with David D. Turner. Consider his words again: “Let us learn from the current plague and let us long remember: There are no others. There is only us. This virus has laid bare the scary responsibility it turns out we have always had for one another. Our carelessness can kill other people. So let’s not be careless.”
Anyone else noting the common word from the time of The NAMES Project to the Trump Pandemic? It’s this word that gives us such a scary responsibility for one another.
That word is care, Beloved. Care. It is our responsibility, as human beings, to care. Do you? Not everyone does.
Remember Melania Trump’s jacket in McAllen, Texas on the occasion of a visit to what they called a ‘family separation crisis’ due to the cruel and unusual policies of ICE? “Getting on and off the plane, she wore an army-green jacket with these words written on the back in white: “I really don’t care. Do U?” I do. Now, what can we do today to help?
Dr. Susan Corso is a metaphysician and medical intuitive with a private counseling practice for more than 35 years. She has written too many books to list here. Her website is www.susancorso.com
© Dr. Susan Corso 2020 All rights reserved.