Let Us Plant Our Gardens Now

Today I sang at the Filoli. My chorus, the Oakland Gay Men’s Chorus, had been invited to be the finale to their Pride celebration. The Filoli is a beautiful old house and gardens; it’s in the opening credits for the TV show Dynasty. We sang in their gorgeous baroque ballroom.

That day, the Filoli was decorated with rainbow banners, and the word PRIDE spelled out in crepe paper flowers. They sold rainbow t-shirts and the staff wore rainbow buttons.

And in the ballroom hung panels from the AIDS quilt. We faced them, when we sang. I was a child in the 80’s, and I grew up hearing stories, but here was the quilt. Here were the names.

One of them had a havdalah candle painted on it. One of them had been for a Jew. Someone had chosen to represent the person they loved with a symbol from the most beautiful ceremony in Judaism, the one we perform at the end of Shabbat. One that most Christians have never heard of, much less seen.

As we walked out, I tried to tell someone — look, look, a havdalah candle. I’m a child sometimes, I’ll admit. But the other Jew in my chorus was not there, and anyway there was the rest of the house to see, and the gardens, and the peacock who flared his tail feathers when we sang for him.

Most candles are allowed to burn themselves out. Havdalah candles are quenched in wine. The light from each wick blends together into a single flame. What were the people who made the quilt thinking of? We watch the shadows play across our palms, the separation of light from dark, and then we douse the light.

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