Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The AIDS Generation, The Bravest Generation

I go to places that hold the untold stories of Generation X - especially the stories of our suffering.   I used to hesitate to use the word "pilgrimage" because this word implies a journey that is to a holy place.  Now I always use this word to describe all my Gen X journeys, especially memorial places, as I realize God is everywhere, especially in those spaces where we seek solace from the suffering we endure in our time on this earth, and especially when we do the holy work of remembering.   I had the chance to go to the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and to do some photography here.

An initial walk through the grove with my family had me thinking about those we've lost from multiple generations.

A pause to look at the redwoods and then a walk back through by myself with my camera got me thinking about my own generation, Generation X, and how many we lost....

Down these steps there was a palpable sorrow. lingering especially above the soft green leaves of the plants to the left.

We cannot, and should not, forget those who experienced HIV/AIDS in a time before there was any hope for medication that could help offer a relatively normal lifespan.  While AIDS primarily affected multiple generations (primarily second wave Boomers and first wave Xers) they called us "The AIDS Generation". 

1996 was the turning point year in the history of the AIDS Generation story - those diagnosed before '96 had a very high mortality rate, as research for treatment was only beginning.  During this key year inhibitor medications began to be available, even if only in their most elemental stages.  I remember this pandemic overshadowed my growing up years, and especially my high school years, with fear.  I graduated just before 1996 when hope began to unfold.

A lot of hope resides in the beauty that was created here, in the flowers reaching toward the sky.

Yet, in the open space below, waves of sorrow come drifting through among the soft winds from the Bay. If you walk here, walk with reverence, below your feet the sand holds many tears have that been shed.

Many First Wave Generation Xers lost a friend, or even a whole circle of friends during their coming of age years. 

Many of us Second Wave Xers remember Ryan White as the first person infected who was our own age. He became infected with AIDS from a blood transfusion.  It felt as if these little white flowers were trying to bend and lean toward each other to somehow spell out the letters of Ryan's name.  It is as if he is forever frozen in our minds as a young teenager, it is as if he became forever young.

Ryan and his family went through enormous ostracizing and persecution when he was diagnosed, and then he became a spokesperson for AIDS....

My family and I had no hatred for those people 
because we realized they were 
victims of their own ignorance.  
-Ryan White, Generation X (1971-1990) 

Dr. Perry Halkitis, a Gen Xer, wrote  The Aids Generation: Stories of Survival and Resiliance.
I've skimmed the book and hope to eventually read it in its entirety.  He writes, "In the last year of the plague alone, nearly as many young Americans died of AIDS as perished in the Vietnam War."  He calls us The Bravest Generation. 

It took many years for this memorial grove to come into existence, Isabel Wade and Nancy McNally envisioned it back in 1988, and a dedication took place on World AIDS Day in 2012:

As I left the park that afternoon and headed toward the stone staircase, the sun was hiding partly behind the clouds that and then finding a way to slowly, bravely, make its way from behind the grayness.  

While we have made progress, much progress still remains.  To read about how AIDS affects income development progress in low-income countries, a new, very effective, mother-to-child transmission immunization, and what we can do globally and individually to help, follow the link here: The One Campaign: HIV/AIDS

(c) 2016 - writing and photography by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved.  
Feel free to comment below or to email me at genxpixels(at)gmail