Thursday, 1 December 2016

On The Boardwalk

Several years ago on World AIDS Day I wrote about various AIDS memorials. Deep in the everglades of Florida some 130 miles from Fort Lauderdale, on the St. Sebastian River (a highly appropriate location as St. Sebastian has been called the patron saint of AIDS sufferers) is a secluded area where an AIDS memorial takes the form of a boardwalk.

The memorial is in the grounds of a spiritual community called Kashi. Although it is run on eastern sacred beliefs Kashi welcomes people of all faiths and none to sample the tranquility of this ashram (the name given to such eastern spiritual communities).

The Kashi ashram was founded forty years ago by a woman from Brooklyn, New York, called Joyce Green. She came from a Jewish family, married and had children, and then went through some spiritual awakening in the 1970s. In 1967 she founded Kashi and adopted the spiritual name of Ma Jaya. During the worst times of the early AIDS crisis Ma Jaya spent a lot of time with AIDS patients across America. In 1990 she founded The River Fund, a non-profit charity which provided physical and spiritual support for AIDS patients around the world. specifically in the USA, India and Uganda.

In 1991 an American AIDS patient and activist called Bruce Cummings, a member of the Kashi ashram, suggested that a place of remembrance should be created in the grounds of the community where people with HIV and the loved ones of those who lost their battles with AIDS could reflect on their lives. Sadly Bruce Cummings died before the memorial could be built, but he left some money to contribute towards it.
Ma Jaya remembered the boardwalks of Coney Islands near where she was raised where she saw many homeless people. She determined not to ignore these and other “throw-away people”, as she called them. With many AIDS victims being “thrown away” by their families Ma thought a boardwalk in the ashram wetlands would be an appropriate memorial.

The memorial boardwalk was finished in 1994. On its planks are the names of AIDS victims. The names of many of the patients whom Ma Jaya visited in the early days are etched, as well as those of members of the Kashi ashram. In time other names were added, not only those from the lgbt community but also children who died of AIDS illnesses.

A second boardwalk was constructed recently, and the Kashi website invites people to submit names of family or friends to be added to the memorial. Kashi has to make a charge for adding names, after all it is, technically, a private memorial not a public one.

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