Hope, Healing and Remembrance at the National AIDS Memorial Grove

As we approach this year’s World AIDS Day observance on December 1, it is a time to reflect on our past, with a vision of hope for a future free of AIDS. This year, the National AIDS Memorial Grove (“the Grove”) will hold the 20th annual World AIDS Day observance at the Grove, preceded the night before with its annual fundraising gala, Light in the Grove. This year’s theme is “Communities Growing Together.” This year we will be recognizing the contributions of several esteemed individuals for their tireless work over the past 30 years. We invite you to join us at the Grove for the weekend of events and remembrances.

On November 30 at Light in the Grove, Tim Hanlon, president of the Wells Fargo Foundation, will receive the 2013 Lifetime of Commitment award. On December 1 during the 20th Annual World AIDS Day observance, Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, will receive the National Leadership Recognition Award, and Franco Beneduce, will posthumously be awarded the Local Unsung, for his lifetime of service to the HIV/AIDS service community. And with an eye toward the future, the Grove’s Young Leaders Scholarship Program, sponsored by UnitedHealthcare, will recognize the educational efforts of young people committed to active roles of public service and leadership in the struggle against HIV/AIDS.

This year’s honorees symbolize the spirit of the Grove, and our collective efforts in the fight against AIDS. More than twenty-two years ago, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was at its worst in San Francisco, volunteers gathered to form the Grove, seeking out a place to create a setting where those impacted by AIDS could both grieve and begin the process of healing.

As I personally reflect, I can’t help but think of the National AIDS Memorial Grove, which was born out of the desire to always cherish, value, and, most importantly, remember all those we have loved and lost to the AIDS pandemic. The Grove was created as a sacred space for survivors to gather, and begin the healing process.

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Twenty-two years later, the Grove stands as a testament to both the individual and the community’s will to persevere through pain, loss and tragedy. Three key themes run throughout the Grove: hope, healing and remembrance. While the treatment advances that became available in 1996 forever changed the future of the pandemic, they did little to alter the two previous decades of the epidemic.

The Grove is a sacred, beautiful site of respite, created by those who were suffering great pain out of great loss. Built on the wreckage of neglect, the Grove transformed part of Golden Gate Park from a spot of dereliction and debris into a healing sanctuary, a place where we heal from the losses we suffered because of AIDS.

Everywhere in the Grove are places with names, sites dedicated to men, women, children, brothers, sisters, lovers, neighbours, co-workers, friends who are no longer with us. Every corner of the Grove tells a story, several stories, all of them personal, unique, and yet, similar, shared.

Because of the love and dedication and unbelievable support of thousands upon thousands of individuals, we have reclaimed and repaired and restored part of the park, forever planting the National AIDS Memorial Grove.

At the western end of the National AIDS Memorial Grove sits the Circle of Peace, dedicated to all those individuals who have been forgotten by the AIDS epidemic, those names and those struggles and those lives that have vanished from memory. In this broken circle you can find a piece of poem that was written by Thom Gunn. It reads:

Walker within this circle, pause.

Although they all died of one cause,

Remember how their lives were dense

With fine, compacted difference.

Like the Circle of Peace, Gunn’s poem resounds with echoes of stories never told, of people whose sole connection to each other was AIDS. The Circle of Peace asks us to remember, and by remembering, give meaning.

Please join our community of supporters for this year’s World AIDS Day weekend events as we remember all those we have lost, and recommit to ourselves – and our community – that the story of AIDS will be known by future generations.

John Cunningham is the executive director of the National AIDS Memorial Grove. To learn more about Light in the Grove and World AIDS Day ceremonies at the National AIDS Memorial Grove, visit www.aidsmemorial.org or call (415) 765-0497.