It was, as I said on my facebook page, an amazing night of remembering, crying and healing at the 25th Annual Candlelight AIDS Vigil. A true sign of the richness of my life is that I didn’t get the chance to hug everybody that I knew there.
Maybe it was the fact that it was the 25th annual vigil or the fact that it’s been 20 years since I’ve known definitively that I have HIV/AIDS – and have lived to tell about it. I don’t need to know why tonight’s ceremony was extra special.
But as I fill in the details you’ll get the picture.
I sat mere steps away from the AIDS Memorial with a group of friends who have steadfastly supported me in my return to the recovery fold. Later, after several of them held me as I completely shuddered with tears, a total stranger introduced herself, asked if she could also hug me, and quickly became a found soul-mate – a friend I hadn’t met yet – as we began to share about people we both knew.
The evening started with the reading of a message from Cleve Jones, particularly to mark the 25th anniversary. The significance was lost on no one who had seen “Milk” in the past year or so, or those of us who know of him as one of the founders of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Three co-hosts masterfully presided over the ceremonies – multiple-Juno Award winner Billy Newton-Davis, himself a long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS, another long-timer Shari Margolese, and 16-year old Quinn Johnston, Shari’s completely healthy son – the first time a mother and child had shared these ceremonial duties at the vigil.
The music throughout the hour was fantastic. I know these vigils have always touched me but there was something about the music and the stories tonight that really hit home. Several references to long-term survivors (and I’d be in that group) were also very meaningful.
25 more names were added to the memorial, bringing the total to something over 2600. Candles were lit, the light passing from person to person, until the entire crowd was bathed in the glow.
I cried plenty of tears during the live music which included Nathalie Nadon singing “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf, a song – “Can You See Me” – commissioned for this 25th anniversary composed and sung by Glenn Marais, and the nineteen voices of “Guys Like Us” singing “I Believe”. As we placed our candles around the site the Regent Park School of Music String Ensemble performed the always evocative Pachelbel Canon.
That’s when the silence was broken as we hugged and cried, and cried and hugged, met old friends, made new ones and just tried to take in the gratitude we felt for such a touching community event in the early hours of Pride weekend.
A huge thank you to all who were responsible for such an important evening.