It's a 5-minute drive from my house to the Anchorage Museum downtown, 7 minutes if you include the time it takes to park and walk in. So my family spends a lot of time there, especially in the winter, and this proximity is one of the perks of living in a small town that has some Big Town feel to it. Half the state lives in Anchorage, so it's all relative: in Alaska, we are the Big City.
And we have a world class museum with excellent exhibits.
And we have our own set of world class concerns that rival those of other Big Cities.
Last night, to commemorate World AIDS Day, 9 blocks of the AIDS Memorial Quilt were on display in the museum's atrium, courtesy of the Four A's (Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association). 12 of the 72 3' x 6' panels making up these blocks commemorated the lives of Alaskans who have died from this disease.
The iconic yellow stars from our state's flag made it easy to find some of them.
Other panels were composed using iconic Alaskan symbols: mountains, Native imagery, the Pipeline, fur.
The ubiquitous insulated Carhartts.
Many held the objects of a life that make us all human.
When this crisis was in its fullest and most devastating momentum, I was in high school and early years of undergraduate school. Too young to lose my community, but old enough to have my shoulders rattled into fear and made to feel like I needed to behave myself accordingly or suffer the consequences. I've talked to friends and family members only a decade younger than I am who don't carry this unease in the same way. If I am half a step removed, they are a full step removed. There is a type of forgetting that occurs when one hasn't fully experienced a horror.
I only obliquely knew a handful of people who died from HIV/AIDS. One was the sweet and gentle man who made all the bouquets for my wedding 22 years ago. Another, an artist.
I didn't take my children with me to the museum last night. A fact that perplexed them, but only momentarily while they dug tunnels in the hard-packed snow in our dark yard and I backed out of the garage, waving. There were a lot of bobbing headlamps and reflective gear out last night -- people running and walking dogs on dry sidewalks. Normally, we have more snow this time of year, but the environment is changing. People call Alaska "Ground Zero," or "the canary in the coal mine."
The world is changing.
The conversations are changing.
Some of these conversations are clever, but so real and contemporary and arresting.
A part of the conversation here can be attributed to the State of Alaska's Wrap It Up Program, developed in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Services STD/HIV program, the HSS public information team and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium HIV/STD prevention program. These condom packets are crass, funny, cool and a conversation starter.
More importantly, they'll probably save lives.