By Lori Saxon Jordahl MBA-HA
Another World AIDS Day is around the corner, what bittersweet memories… the loss of friends, prayers for an end, and the light of many still passionate about prevention, awareness and helping. My cell phone rings, jolting me out of my thought process. It is my son, Benjamin, my interest was piqued, he never calls from work, so like a good mom, I ask in panic, “Is everything okay?”
Benjamin laughs and says, "World AIDS day is next week. So I asked my boss for permission to distribute red ribbons. I was wondering if you could get me some."
A rush of pride flows through my veins as the moment when a loving mom realizes that her child has learned the importance of giving back to the community. I reply, “I’ll get some today. Ben, you made my day. Love you.
Bye.” I hang up the phone as a filmstrip of memories floods back to me…
Meeting with the World AIDS Day steering committee in 1989 and deciding we needed to go big: a march down Biscayne Boulevard, a program at Bayfront Park. From there it grew to thousands walking down the Boulevard, singing, chanting and then silence with lit candles. I remember the burn of the wax as it melted down my fingers and picture the committee’s faces then realize: “I am the only one still alive”.
A grim reaper ringing bells which tolled for those who died, while protesting activists collapse, have outlines of their bodies chalked on the sidewalk next to Biscayne Blvd. It’s rush hour, cars are stopping, cameras are rolling, people are
gasping…and the eeriness later that night of seeing so many chalked bodies on an empty sidewalk.
Feeling goose bumps rise upon hearing the names called out of those who have died of AIDS. It is my turn to remember friends, peers and co-workers and I am too choked up from crying each year as my list gets longer.
Remembering Pedro Zamora, not just his TV’s “Real World” personality, but also the family friend side, the man who cooked dinner for my family, listening to him and helping him practice for his earliest talks, crying on my shoulder, leading our candlelight walks. I was one of the lucky few who got a chance to kiss him goodbye and promise to keep his memory alive.
Star Power!. Back then, there weren’t many who stood up for the cause. Celia Cruz, Albita, Carmen Electra, Daisy Fuentes from MTV, Lisa Ray, and Marri Morrow, cast members from Real World, participated in our local events. I watch with a sad smile as Celia Cruz pins a ribbon on her close friend, Alberto Julbe—
his request to wear the ribbon when he died was honored.
Tasting the salty tears during candlelight vigils on South Beach: the ghostly look of faces lit by melting paraffin reflecting their souls as the ocean breeze extinguished their flames.
World AIDS Day Health Fairs in Liberty City where hundreds of people were eating, watching programs, getting tested, with live broadcasts on the radio and dancing to the music. You could feel the pounding of the bass in the music go right through your entire body.
Touching the cotton carved letters of a Names Project Quilt panel. Sewing memories of quilting bees, hoping to meet the deadline so they can be part of the World AIDS Day viewing in Miami Beach. A friend with AIDS pricks his finger on a needle and holds it up saying “How sad it is that something so beautifully rich with life can be so deadly.”
The “QUILT”! At first, I looked for friends and panels that I contributed to but that was too sad. So, I just walked through the convention center by myself (wanting to be alone with so many near me) and admire the love that was sewn into each piece. As I wiped my tears away for the umpteenth time I heard my name called out. It was my son Benjamin on a field trip from his school. So together we took the tour of those he knew. At the end, in front of his friends, he told me not to worry about him, He knew all about prevention.
Praying, “We open our hearts and minds to the welfare of all people with HIV and AIDS. We ask that they be held in love and feel the Divine support.” The interfaith blessings from several Religious and Spiritual leaders coming together embraced us all.
The babies and children... watching as my children Benjamin and Jackie hold the hand of a little boy as they walk across the large Bayfront Park stage to light a candle on behalf of children living with AIDS. The silence of the crowd was powerful.
Red ribbons, flowers, condoms, and more strewn across my living room. People coming in and out helping with decorations, goody bags, making signs and all the odds and ends of putting together several events each year. My husband John, joining in wherever he could help. His love hugs and support are still the best!
I take a moment to reflect on my millisecond mental slide show, and I realize my bittersweet memories of those who have passed on but continue to live in my heart and mind are what drives me. I am glad to know that I have helped my community, and that my work, even in small ways, will live on through people like my son.