Thursday, April 1, 2010

World AIDS Day Ribbon Angels

Original Post 11/28/09

When I was gathering my supplies, I pulled out glitter sugar, pearls, coconut and silver dragees because I intended to make these cookies look beautiful, fluffy, sparkly and shiny. As I painted them, I got inspired to go a bit punk, a bit...well...Keith Haring which I see now is so much more appropriate. I used an ordinary sugar cookie dough recipe, cut out the wings with a cookie cutter and then cut and folded a strip of dough to make the AIDS ribbon.

I was inspired to design this cookie for World AIDS Day by food blogger Spinach Tiger's Cook Red To Remember Event. Reading her incredibly touching and well written story brought me back to the Mid 80's to my days as an AIDS activist in NYC. Armed with my BFA in Theater Management, I had gotten my first job out of college for a company managing Broadway shows. There I was, bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of energy, living my dream of working on my first Broadway production. I was ready to take on the world...but it seemed as if the world was dying around me.

The Broadway community was being decimated by AIDS. Shocked and outraged, I looked around for the right opportunity to do something to help. Being an animal lover led me to become the volunteer coordinator for a support service that did everything possible to keep pets together with their owners who had AIDS. That might sound a bit low priority considering the surreal challenges facing people with AIDS back then (even ACT UP made fun of us.) At that time, most people were horribly paranoid in the presence of someone infected. For many of our clients, pets were the only living creatures in their lives who didn't maintain a physical distance. Pets gave unconditional acceptance.

You can't even imagine what lifelines these animals became to people who were diagnosed with AIDS and home bound. They provided companionship, relief, affection, amusement, comfort and love. Many AIDS patients were shunned by friends and family, weak, terrified and suffering with horribly compromised immune systems. Walking their dog became impossible and changing a litter box or cleaning a birdcage was a significant health risk. Many no longer able to work were overburdened financially as well as emotionally. We made it physically and financially possible for people and their pets to remain together. In addition to daily care, we delivered free food, organized free veterinary care picking up and delivering animals, provided foster care when our clients were hospitalized and, when necessary, long term adoption.

Once when I hit an especially low point, a friend reminded me of all the good that came out of the AIDS crisis. The amazing collective energy of love and compassion. The way people pulled together and found themselves and those around them transformed by their commitment to make things better for people with AIDS. Through volunteering, I met and worked with a lot of amazing, dedicated people (that's you Wendy, Alan and Barry and Jamie!) Although still painful to think about (there are endless horror stories to dwell on) in a way I treasure those hardcore experiences in the trenches of the AIDS crises. I forged lasting friendships, found myself consistently inspired by clients and their pets and learned life lessons, both hard and wonderful.

I always need the appropriate music to make and decorate cookies by. For these Ribbon Angels, I chose one of my favorites, Mahalia Jackson's Greatest Hits. As the incomparable Mahalia sang spirituals and lifted me higher to that "Rainbow in the Sky", I rolled and cut out and mixed and painted and remembered all those beautiful, funny and talented friends, co workers, dance teachers, bosses, mentors and creatives whose genius touched my life all too briefly. I remembered the marches, the protests, the parades, the AIDS walks, the meetings, the volunteer training sessions, the HIV positive babies I held, the holidays spent in hospital AIDS wards, the countless weekends working tables at street fairs, the benefits, the parties, all the dogs I walked, all the memorials I went to and all the wonderful people I met along the way.

Today I feel grateful for how far things have come. Thankfully, there is no need for this support service anymore. Still, so many people are suffering from this disease all over the world, especially women and children so I also cannot forget how much more work needs to be done.

To all my friends living with AIDS, because I was there in that terrible time, I know every day is a celebration and I celebrate with you. May we all one day see an AIDS free world.

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