Dave Daniels has learned what is essential for him to not only survive, but thrive for a lifetime
By Laura Valentine
October 24 is a significant day for Dave Daniels. On this day in 1988, he would receive the news of his HIV-positive status and an uncertain future.
Time-travel 29 years to 2017 in the halls of The Art Institute of Tennessee – Nashville. On this very same day, you find yourself in the company of others at a reception, viewing panels from The Names Project — AIDS Memorial Quilt, marking the 30th anniversary of its first display in Washington, D.C. Each panel represents the life of someone who was deeply loved and lost to complications from AIDS. You would find Dave Daniels here, too, but not in the way you might imagine.
When the date of the reception coincided with his diagnosis anniversary date, Dave knew he must attend and present the panels he had been holding reverently until they could be safely delivered to the Names Project for dedication.
“(I was able to) console people who were seeing the quilt for the first time,” he recalled. “It was a holy day for me because some people had never had a chance to let their grief out.”
More than a piece of fabric, these panels hold memories, laughter, tears, joy, and loss of friendships severed by death. For Dave, each stitch is a tribute to his friends Ray Fitzpatrick and Peter Dowding who he befriended in the same AIDS support group at AIDS Services Foundation in Irvine, Calif. He credits this support group for helping him sustain a life living with a disease whose treatment protocol is often more debilitating than the disease itself.
Equally as important were the years 1996 to 2002, which he spent as Camp Leader with “Strength for the Journey.” Through this role, he learned the art of being a counselor and a positive presence to others.
This helped as he comforted others at the quilt exhibit, and this gift was reciprocated as he too was comforted in his grief when he released the panels for safekeeping.
Daniels has the unenviable honor of having known more than 3,000 people who have died of complications from AIDS. As a long-time survivor, the memories of so many friendships compel him to do everything he can to bring an end to the disease. He has served on the Ryan White Planning Council for many years and is the current Chair of the HIV/AIDS Ministry at Edgehill United Methodist Church. Feeling it’s important for survivors to be visible in the community, he volunteers when and where he can, is still helping to raise money for People Living with HIV/AIDS and for research, and walks in the annual AIDS Walk and 5k Run benefiting Nashville CARES.
“Being in community with folks who have had the same experiences is important to me,” he said, explaining what had sustained him through the challenges of the last 29 years. “They understand the struggle and can laugh together through the dark times.”
The memories of his friends who have died, he said, serve as “guardians for him, and help along the way.”
For more about the Names Project, visit The Names Project — AIDS Memorial Quilt web site.