Life, Re-Imagined

Life, Re-Imagined

Or

To Be or Not To Be

 That, indeed, really IS the question. Do we continue to cling to life despite the overwhelming evidence that our bodies, creaking and groaning, continually nudge to our attention the fact that we are inexorably crumbling earthward?

When we were young, if we grew tired of our rented flat we would go in search of another………we moved…….…we upgraded………we expanded.

As we grew older and owned our first homes, when we outgrew them, either physically or emotionally, we again looked around, saw what struck our next fancy, and moved forward…..….once more into the future.

Now we are settled, adult, kids gone, big houses in the past, our needs are simpler, our space is less demanding. We have right-sized ourselves as social construct and common sense dictates we should.

And then here comes AARP telling us to re-invent ourselves; Life Reimagined, that’s their new jaunty push for the over 50? set that we now fall into.

But here’s the catch.

Our bodies now betray our mind’s ability to do that reinvention that we are desperately seeking to attain. We have worked all our lives to get to a point where we can take a deep breath, look around the wide world and see what percolates up for a new adventure, a next career, a mindful entertainment. We have the time, the resources, the aching will…………but we also have our aching bodies that protest and reject us at every turn as we fitfully start out on each of the new paths that appear before us, looking entirely enticing and alluring, yet requiring a greater degree of energy than we had previously remembered. Our alterations of course are currently demanding more than we have to give.

I cry False Advertising.

What people really need is to absorb the lessons AARP so fervently wants us to learn in our dotage when they are still young and able-bodied enough to put them to good use.

How many of us are having exactly the same conversations at every dinner party and with every friend of a certain age………that would be our age?

My hip is bad

My foot is killing me

My back is shot

My………….fill in the failing body part………..is a mess

It is the ultimate irony that now that we have the time and the interest, we don’t have the physical stamina to tackle all these fascinating and fun things that have waited out there tantalizingly tempting us for decades. If our kids used this type of an excuse in grade school we would never, ever, have believed them. Shirkers. Lay-abouts. Lazy. We’d have decried them.

And yet we gird our loins, hitch up our braces and elastic bands and buckles, and stumble forward keeping care to not really stumble or there’s a hip replacement in our near future. In reality, those hips have probably already been replaced, more than once, and because they’re “like new” our other parts, whether through jealousy or simple re-alignment, groan and protest and flare and inflame for their fair share of the Medicare dollars that they feel they deserve and we, their unwilling foils, spend our days making appointments; for doctors, physicians assistants (doctors-light), MRIs,

“Do you have any metal objects implanted in your body?”

“Have you looked at my medical file? The one that fills a full gig of memory on your computer? Just key in ‘XRay’ and see what pops up. Don’t ask me that again, Tammy, I talk to you every other week.”

physical therapists. And that’s just the traditional medical milieu.

Let us not give short shrift to the massage therapists, yoga instructors, Reike practitioners, psychic alignment shamans, crystal healers, and copper band Internet sellers. They, too, take up a significant amount of our time, money, and quite frankly, the verve that I was planning on devoting to hiking the Appalachian Trail, skydiving the wine country, and swimming with sharks…….oh wait……I may have that last one covered…….insurance companies may be equatable here. But I digress.

AARP             Active Adults, Real Possibilities

It’s a great idea in theory. The reality is we should be teaching our young to fully engage themselves throughout their lives, starting now, today. And a word about this concept of engagement.

This does NOT mean that every child must join every team, every club, every sport, take every lesson, attend each practice, you name the activity. Parents should not be the slaves of their child’s schedules nor should their children, for fear of not having a properly fleshed out resume with which to enroll themselves throughout their schooling, lose their humanity for the sake of their future.

I understand that childhood today is radically different than when I was there. My siblings and friends tend to idealize our time as feral youth but in reality, they were the best of times. We had the great good fortune to live in the country, un-phased by mass murders, school shootings, gang violence, aggressively angry bullying, truly partisan, rancorous politics; any of the myriad, hideous realities that kids and parents today must actually confront. We were shoved out the kitchen door every summer morning, told to pack a lunch and be home by dark. Period. End of parental oversight until baths, BBQ, and bed.

But those days, for most, are really and truly history. And we have replaced them with a frantic push to over achievement and programmed activity that creates a generation of hyperactive, overly medicated, PTSD prone children. With both parents working, free time oversight has been shifted to schools, programs, educators, day care, and scheduled social interactions.

Short of creating Biodome utopian country settings where we plop our kids through a portal into the safety of a “controlled county atmosphere” where we let them play out their version of our historic childhoods I don’t know what the answer is.

But I know what it’s not. It is not what we are currently doing.

If we want our kids to be contented, happy, engaging adults then we must model for them what that looks like, warts, casts, imperfections, etal. We must help them into their future by showing them our pasts. Stop filling up their lives with stuff and start filling up their minds with memories. My best recollections are not of bikes or brand names but of feelings and friendships.

More talk, less activity.

AARP starts when you are young

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THE Plague vs a plague

THE Plague vs a plague

AIDS vs Ebola

I am not prepared to debate or even discuss on equal terms, the comparison between these two horrific scourges. I am simply struck by the frenetic, hyperbolic, media-saturated, coverage of the “Ebola Crisis” versus 30 years of AIDS weariness when, for the first 10 years of it at least, our government and ALL their officials would not even mention the word while it spontaneously erupted like California wildfires and consumed hundreds of thousands of lives in America before jumping back across the oceans to its origins and engulfing other continents as well.

Seemingly suddenly, with the help of a few brave Hollywood hearts, AIDS became a cause celebre and started garnering some of the much needed attention and money it would require to even start to combat the ravaging it was effecting.

==============================================================

By The Numbers

8,400 cases of Ebola, so far. 4,300 deaths

At the end of 2009, an estimated 1,148,200 persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV infection in the United States, including 207,600 (18.1%) persons whose infections had not been diagnosed

In 2013, there were 35 million [33.2 million–37.2 million] people living with HIV.

Since the start of the epidemic around 78 million [71 million–87 million] have become infected with HIV and 39 million [35 million–43 million] people have died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Analogous demographics in terms of fatality rates albeit proportionality is not considered.

===============================================================

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA has pledged £4.1million to combat the deadly disease Ebola, far more than several wealthy European nations.

Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder, has increased his commitment in the fight against Ebola to $100 million on Thursday.

Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation has given over $14 million in grants to more than 40 states and 31 countries…..in 25 years.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised 200million dollars………in 25 years

==========================================================

Am I the only one who is noticing the blatant, dichotomous, knee-jerk, discrepancy in these two epidemics?

Did the AIDS crisis of the last century prime us to respond better to global health threats in general? Or did the fact that AIDS was viewed, initially, and to some extent still is, as a “gay” disease and, as such, not quite as threatening to the white, hetero-normative, culture that still prevails amongst us?

But, if that is the case, then why Ebola Hysteria? After all, it’s primarily an African phenomenon and, as such, those same pesky, white, hetero-deniers that tamped down AIDS funding for generations should not be quite this hysterical over Ebola.

Right?

Or should they?

Is this just another form of the chest-thumping, black-baiting, racism that has pervaded our country and our culture since its inception? It could be argued that for exactly this reason alone, corporations, individuals, and countries, are ponying up funding to fight Ebola in unprecedented numbers. Racism or Anti-racism. Call it what you may. Every wants/needs to beon the “right” side of this one.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that Bill Gates, Paul Allen, IKEA, or any of the powerful and potent contributors are racist in any manner, just as I would not call them homophobic on a personal or professional level either. I don’t know any of them that well.

I will only say that race and gender identity aside; it makes better economic sense today for them to jump on the Ebola parade float than it did 30 years ago to wave a rainbow flag and rush to help the millions that were suffering and dying on the same streets that they walked every day…….in their own countries.

I suppose it’s a muted testament to the power of the 24hour news cycle and the pervasiveness of the Internet and its subsequent dissemination of information that we do have more knowledge with which to form opinions today, albeit skewed (FOX, MSNBC) and skewered. Axioms rule:

The More You Know

When You Know Better, You Do Better

But just how much more do we need to “know”?

We know the facts. We know the science. We know the social geography that paralyzes justice and forward movement.

When will we move beyond the newsreaders, the politicians, and the social constructionists, and embrace the facts?

We can stop these diseases now. Today. We have the ability. If we can put a man on the moon with less technology than is currently being held in our hands on a daily basis, we have the brainpower and the science.

We need to unleash the world and ALL its resources, friend and foe alike, in a global initiative to end AIDS, Ebola, and any other scourge that will present itself in the future….and they will come……more and more of them.

Instead of a US Emergency Task Force to be dispatched to the next Ebola sufferer, we need summits, confabs, and direct action monies and manpower and brilliance, all working together, across imaginary political lines, for the betterment of the world. Every country professes a desire to enhance and protect “our” planet. It’s time for the rubber to meet the road.

Instead of posturing for political advantage; for the next border skirmish, the next weapons contract, the next election cycle, if we actually did what we said should do; gather together with a sense of morally guided purpose to rid humans of horrendous suffering, then religious groups, atheistic moralists, economic pragmatists, everyone, would have to agree that the end justifies any means taken to reach it.

Whether global warming (call it what you will, believe in it or not, again, that’s a political ploy), toxic chemicals, nuclear waste, plagues or pestilence, we could solve them all and in the process, a lot of what separates us would wash out in the rinse cycle.

The real question is do we have the will? The will to raise ourselves above the noise. The will do the correct thing and not the expediently right thing.

The will to be…….better.

Human.

Beings.

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How’s Your Life’s Lens?

How's Your Life's Lens?

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Killing Me Softly

Killing me Softly

With a nod to Roberta Flack

Something is going on inside of me.

I can’t explain it. I can’t define it. I can barely think about it no less talk it out or try and make it matriculate into something tangible, concrete, or even ephemeral.

I feel like I have a dervish whirling loose at my core that seeks to fill every crevice and crack with energy and action. Opportunities are falling from the skies above me almost daily and there is so much I suddenly want to, need to, must…..do.

I am as one awoken from a deep sleep, the world searingly bright and hyper-attenuated, waiting for my imprint, my input, my extraordinary need to manifest itself.

People are seeking me out; for advice, opinion, action. I am compelled into forums and mediums, and venues, that are new to me yet seem as conquerable and comfortable as to a toddler learning their native tongue. It is all there before me; I simply must pick it up and start running.

And keep running.

And all the while some small insistent and insidious spark of a notion lies, worm-like at my core; wriggling about my psyche; amid quiet or amongst noise. A premonition? A warning? A still small voice urging me to speed yet screaming me to slow.

Time is running out.

That is what, if I am really thoughtfully and truthfully listening, the voice is telling me. Not in so many words but in exactly so many of the feelings and intuits that I have always believed in and learned to rely upon. I have lived my life on this plain with a very certain sense of having lived before; a destiny of place, a spirit of soul, a conviction of core that, if heeded well and relied upon, has been of great value and guidance to me.

Some may call it intuition, some pre-cognition; some might even say that it’s related to the current state of my heart and its palpitating imperfection. It may be.

And so I run.

I swear I’m going to relax, tend my garden, play with the animals, take long walks, see more movies, cook more meals with friends. I swear.

And then I run.

I run to help a friend who is dying try and live well while he’s here. I run to help another tend their home and animals while they recuperate from a surgery. I run to a conference to learn how to help even more of the masses with HIV help themselves along their paths. I run home to family and ailing parents and siblings and friends in untold numbers. And lest it seems I am only running to others……..

I run to me.

I am writing more, taking more photos, staging gallery shows, if something looks attractive, I do it. Someone says “You should make a documentary”; maybe I should! I am curating a life I never thought I would have, given the certain death I was foretold 3 decades ago.

Maybe I am a latter day Rip van Winkle, finally awakening to the life I was supposed to be living all along.

The young me wanted to be an architect. I loved houses, buildings, rooms, and windows. I loved dark cellars and lofty barns. I loved the smell of cut lumber and the swish of fresh paint. I still love the glint of new steel and the sweep of curved glass. But in those prehistoric days you needed to be a draftsman before you were an architect and I hate drafting. Hated it.

Not too little, too late. More like too much, too early.

Now there’s CAD and programs and apps for that. My visions could be realities. My tools could be virtual. My dreams could have been built.

It seems possible, even plausible, that my core is catching up with my convictions. Yet I wonder why now? Why this moment in time? Why, when my body is really beginning to show its age and ague, am I suddenly infused with an effervescence of action that threatens to blow every gasket in the clunker of a carcass I am hauling around? How many planes, trains, and automobiles can I possible commit to before I get committed to whatever grave I will finally fall face-first into?

Along with these sleep disturbing, twitchingly tense, visions of versions of the self I must yet attain, comes an equally needy, must address, now, requirement to communicate this to my less than ethereally tuned-in husband. He operates in the here and now and I have always lived in another place, slightly psychically removed from the “real” world. We have a very workable truce between the two. Like the nearby Columbia River, we have our own Bridge of the Gods.

My heart flutters, literally. I suppose figuratively as well but it’s the visceral not the virtual that is driving me at the moment.

I am navigating the world of aging organs and failing follicles, although my hair does seems like it will be the last thing to go. Small blessing are good. Heart issues in your 60’s are not so very strange. But history, not simply the medical delineation of progression through the years of procedures and ailments, but the history of behavior and disease and consequence now comes into mental and physical clarity. All those drugs and drinks we inhaled as careless and carefree youngsters have a price now. The HIV that has lain, mostly dormant but insidiously insistent, inside my cells is still there, working its voodoo in unknown spells with untold incantations. The drugs that have kept it caged like a coffin for a sleeping vampire have a price that will be due at the end of the dance.

Is this when the piper must be paid?

It is all of these things, messianic and miasmic, swirling around in a corporeal stew that, steaming and almost ready, will be served up soon. How soon? That is where the rubber band that is me, meets the road that has been trod these 6 plus decades.

I am listening to the voices, both inner and outer, more clearly than ever before. Sometimes they ring like a knife on crystal calling for a toast. Sometimes they whisper like the winter wind through the somber cedars. Yet however they speak, they create that flicker, that flutter, that spark that, at once, seeks to ignite and extinguish, all in one massive conflagration.

We all wonder how we will die. Softly in our sleep was the childhood dream-like envisioning. Explosively alive and then gone; poof, we fantasized in our excessive youths. Agonizingly slow and suffering, back then, before the “cure” of the Cocktail. At our own hands then too, to save others and us our fear and our suffering. And now? What do we envision now that we have really lived this much of life?

I think the choices are still exactly the same only we face them with a greater degree of urgent equanimity as the clock ticks inexorably on. I know I, personally, have a peaceful resolve in some sense.

And yet, there is this drive. This urgency. This need to…………do. More. Still. But then end is closer, I feel it, I am listening. I hear it speak my name.

With that in mind, I actually put voice to it recently. I told Dave that should something happen to me suddenly (and I even admitted I was “hearing” signs of this), that I needed him to know that I was forever grateful for the amazing life we have had together, happier than I ever thought I would be and that I needed him to know that, to remember that.

And this reminded him of something he said to me when we first met and I had to have the awkward, relationship-killing conversation about HIV and what that meant in 1993 as we looked ahead into an unknown void of a future together.

 “I’d rather have a year with you than a lifetime with you”

 Far from Killing Me Softly

 Letting me live Out Loud

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Screens, the New Plague

Screens. The New Plague

“Screens, Screens, everywhere there’s Screens, breaking up the scenery and blocking out my mind”………with a post-prescient nod to The Five Man Electrical Band and their 1971 hit, “Signs”.

I’m guilty. Let’s get this out of the way and off the table right up front. I spend too much time “connected”; Facebook, Texts, Emails, Google, I’m down with most of them but am resisting the Tweet, Ping and many of the instant gratification apps I could be indulging in.

I’m working on it. I’m working my steps.

But the phenomenon is so pervasive, so distracting, so consuming, that I see a new generation of addiction clinic models already thinking about how to profit off the detoxing of Americans from their Screens. Can it be far away that horrific accidents, caused by texting, are proven to be crimes and effective defense lawyers begin promulgating “by reason of text addiction” as a viable defense strategy?

I just came from attending the US Conference on AIDS in San Diego. An amazing amalgam of providers, professionals, experienced Legends living with HIV, and earnest, engaged, people of all stripes and persuasions urgently fighting the good fight. I know we all came to edify, to connect, to learn from each other’s experiences and to open our minds to new theories, treatments, and strategies we can put into our own personal toolboxes when we return home.

USCA14 did an admirable job of organization, garnering sponsors, experts, and the newly minted volunteer enthusiasts into a 4-day fest of concentrated energy and engagement.

Except.

In the organizers forethoughtfulness, they invented an app……….a Facebook for the USAC14 attendees, complete with a point-fueled contest for the people who posted the most; the most updates, the most photos, the most likes, the most comments, etc. Incentivizing the app was really not necessary. We are all already rats in the maze so the adoption rate was instantaneous and complete.

The result.

Where I came expecting to meet and greet and garner; new friends, new information, new attitudes, what I found was table after breakout after plenary session packed, every seat taken, eager minds supposedly waiting to be infused with a new energy and fresh knowledge, but instead of personal engagement, they were ALL hunched over their screens. The chatting, the texting, the posting , the planning of their next move after this room they were currently in was endemic and infectious, a word I don’t use lightly at an AIDS conference.

The almost total lack of eye contact and personal interaction beyond perfunctory greetings was stunning in its completeness. Every table where I sat during the elaborate, sponsored, plenary sessions; these functions complete with truly engaging speakers telling their personal stories and even wild and professional dance performances was exactly the same. It was Vegas Light and quite entertaining and even informative yet almost to a person, everyone was on their Screens. Looking around, other tables, it was exactly the same. The dull, bluish glow actually gave the attendees an odd, filmy, alien quality. 1,300 people and I’d say 1,100 Screens. Their network must be truly muscular.

Every breakout was the same, people chatting with others not in the room or even with some IN the same room; planning dinner, the next session, the bathroom locations, anything to remain connected. The Screens dinged and flashed and buzzed in an almost constant cacophony, sounding for all the world like new age mosquitos……..and the urge to swat them was just as strong.

If I ruled the world.

I could not help but think of the time and thought and effort put forth by all of those who were leading these sessions, urgently wanting to get their point of view actually heard, to prompt discussions, solicit engagement and feedback, formulate new paths forward. Were I them, I would wonder if I was even noticed no less heard. Were I them, I would confiscate all phones at the start and return them at the finish.

If I ruled the world.

I know the arguments. They fall across generational lines. Funny enough, one of my major focuses here at the conference and back at home is fostering conversations between the disparate generations so that the decades of hard-fought experience we elders (called Legends at USCA14) are in possession of might be translated into actionable facts for the next generations below us to put into practical use and not simply to exist as documentary facts found on archived film and video clips or tall tales from the crypt-like carcasses of we aging activists.

The younger among us claim that this IS the way they learn; to connect, constantly;

“It actually helps my concentration to be on my phone”
“I use my pad as my toolbox to education”
“We all use our phones and pads constantly, it’s the way the world does it now”

I try to listen without prejudice, I really do. And yes, I am of another generation, several others as a matter of fact but I am not exactly a dinosaur….quite yet. As I said at the start, I, too, am guilty of too much connectivity. I jumped right onto the conference app. It was Facebook-familiar, easy, quick. I wanted to feel part of the gang, meet the other interesting people I knew were swarming about me all wanting for the same interactions as I.

But instead of “meeting” people face to face, shaking hands, looking them in the eye, feeling the sincerity of their soul reflected through the energy of our interactions I saw, quite quickly, that I was tumbling down the same Facebook funnel that I fight against in the “real word”.

“T shirts for the people who post 1,100 points worth of content”
“100 point a check in”
“500 points a photo”

Really? This is what millions of dollars of effort and thousands of miles worth of plane tickets and travel come down to? Points? T shirt contests?

And I cannot stress enough what I found missing.

Eye Contact.

I seriously felt that I was interrupting some vital communication when I sought to approach someone in a crowd of people that I wanted to meet; as if barging in to shake their hand and say I admired them or their work or to ask them a question would be taking them away from some other, amorphous and obviously more important conversation that was happening elsewhere in their head and on their screen. They were miles, or maybe just millimeters, away from where I stood before them.

I know from my years of planning and attending just such conferences that companies, associations, and organizations pay a lot of hard-fought money to send their representatives to these events to personally engage their compatriots. The purpose; to bring home new contacts, new business, new ideas.

I cannot calculate who I missed or how many I missed but I know I did miss out, I feel it, I felt it, even as it was occurring…or not occurring, as it were. I pulled back on the posting, the following, the picture taking. I left my phone turned off while I was at the convention proper. I made the effort to reach out, inject myself into conversations, introduce myself to my seat-mates at sessions, stroll to breakouts with new acquaintances, but I have to say it took work, a lot of work, a lot more work than it should have at a venue that was set up to promote just this sort of personal engagement.

Habits are hard to break.

They have to be recognized as harmful, first of all. We know texting while driving is harmful. I know I can’t even talk hands-free without a major loss of concentration because I’m thinking about the person and the conversation I’m having rather than who’s driving next to me and who’s stopping short way up the road in front of me. But we are all conditioned; by advertising, by our friends, by our cars, by our desire to connect and be part of the next, newest technology. Where would Apple be without its devotees?

I also know I’m fighting an uphill and a losing battle even as I put pen to paper (speaking of old school, gone technologies) but I refuse to go gently into the good night without at least a modicum of a fight.

It seems to me that we who invented the Alternative Generation back in the 60’s have fallen prey to its promoter, Timothy Leary’s raison d’etre and are much to our own chagrin and shame, victims of its battle cry:

“Turn on, Tune In…………..Drop Out”

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Carry Them Lightly

Carry Them Lightly

By:  Robby Sherwin

A national conference on HIV and AIDS is an exhilarating, sobering, energizing, and humbling experience. At my very first one, right now, this week, I feel like a vestal virgin set for sacrifice amongst an army of warriors who work, tirelessly, for the cause that has inspired generations of activism, engagement, outreach, artwork, and so much more.

I was there at the beginning. San Francisco, 1982, GRID. Having already been in The City for years and, behaving like every other hormonally charged young gay man there in those heady days and nights, I feared yet assumed that I was already doomed. As the numbers of cases grew and the horrifying symptoms began to make their presence known in public, the fear became palpable. The dread and doom seemed to be a living entity and in many ways it was. As we began to twirl out of the discos and into a slow motion dance of death, we quickly learned to bear the weight of the world upon our backs along with the shame of the lesions that festered on faces and torsos.

The world felt leaden.

Suddenly, the afternoon gusts of wistful fog slipping over Twin Peaks and snuggling Sutro Tower like a bathhouse towel, took on an ominous, grey, sodden quality, infusing the minds and moods with dread and doom.

The Bay Area Reporter (B.A.R.) began to cover story after somber saga of the wildfire-advance of this new, what? Plague? That was the word. And it was not just us. It was turning up simultaneously in New York, Los Angeles, and any other metropolitan area that had attracted a quorum of queers seeking some sense of relief from the hatred and oppression that they, we, had been weaned on and warped with all of our youths.

It really, really, felt like it was directed, personal, evil. It appeared to be aimed at the very heart of our hearts….and bodies. How could we NOT think of conspiracies? With the likes of Anita Bryant and Pat Robertson and Strom Thurmond spouting vitriol and poison on every news cast it was not a far stretch for us to be tempted into thinking that someone, powerful and crafty and self-righteously sure, was brewing up a batch of ill simply to eliminate or at the very least silence our growing cries for equality and justice.

And then the dying began.

Where one day, the staggering days of the living dead were walkering up Castro suddenly, without a word or a goodbye….they were gone. Their obits began to populate the pages of the B.A.R. weekly. The shops and the businesses began to post the pages on their windows. It became wallpaper. The reports from across the country were equally as bad. The gloom grew. The fear seeped into our DNA and like a train wreck on the evening news, we could not look away, we dared not look away or we may be, would be, next. Every cough, sniffle, sneeze, ache and pain, was cause for an adrenaline shot of panic. Every shower became a jail-house intake inspection, frantically searching for lesions yet desperately hoping against hope that we would not find one and still, somehow knowing that someday, any day now, we would.

And then the funerals came.

Like a mudslide of mayhem they reigned down on everyone we knew. They were for everyone we knew. The sadness, the crushing despair, the stillness in our souls rioted with the fear and anger in our hearts until our chests would explode. We could not cry any harder, mourn any more, soothe any softer. We all died a thousand tiny deaths over and over and over again.

It changes you. Forever.

Quilts came, people continued to leave. The B.A.R. became as thick as the New York Times…all obits. We scanned every issue; dreading the inevitability of the pictures we would find and staggering back with the stunned shock when they would, always, appear. Those smiling faces of our loves, our lives, our futures…..gone.

And then my most personal horror unfolded. My very best friend, John, sickened before my eyes. I was powerless, profaned, and impotent in the face of this onslaught of unspeakability.

At the start of the horror, we had talked, often, of this inevitability; how we knew our time would come, how we would be there for each other, help each other not to suffer, to die with dignity, clean out each other’s porn stashes before our families could find them…the really practical bones of ending a life far too soon.

As he weakened, his lover passing first, his mother, my friend as well, came to live with him and care him through the end; a passage no mother nor any young man, should have to do. I flew into town from San Diego where I had been for several years now. I was stunned. His 6’4” frame, the same as mine, was now shrunk to 100 lbs. He was my worst nightmare, my mirror on myself. I carried him to the bathroom tending to him as I would my 4yo nephew. He was scarcely speaking. Doris, his mother, was 70 years old and exhausted. I sent her out to the hairdresser and shopping, a treat for her, but I was taking over for the day with a very specific mission in mind.

It was time.

As I sat gently with John, quietly talking about our lives and loves and inner-most longings, I moved the moment towards what I knew I had to do; I had to offer the ending that we had so often spoken about, promised to each other, swore we would be there for, an ultimate gift of grace.

As I gently broached the topic; “John, is it time? I feel as though I am here for a reason and you are suffering. We have always promised to be honest and present and I’m here, now, to help you if you think you’re ready, whatever you need from me, I’m here”

He mustered everything he had in him and swung his body away from me, angrily, purposefully, looking at something, anything, but me. Seething.

He never spoke to or looked at me again. He died while I was in the air on a business trip to Chicago 3 days later. I cry, still, as I write this. It was almost 30 years ago. The inimitable will to live…amazing.

An artist friend had me to dinner not long after. We leafed through bin after bin of his amazing Japanese style Haiku drawings and feasted on a carefully crafted Asian meal. After dinner, as I rose to help with the clearing up, he spoke instantly; “Your only responsibility for dinner is to go and choose any piece of work you have seen tonight that strikes you”

Without pause if quickly leafed back through the stacks and found a piece that had thunderstruck me earlier. It was a simple Haiku: ‘

Who

Are

You

This

Time

John and I had so often spoken of past and future lives, our paths in this temporal world, our places in each other’s past lives. He was a scholar of religion at Berkeley and we sought out universal truths and ethereal questions. We had solemnly sworn that whoever left this plane first would come back with a sign , something, anything, to let the other know that we had arrived, safely and with joy, and were awaiting the reunion to come. It was exactly my question for him.

Who are you this time?

This piece has hung next to my bed these past 3 decades. I think about John every day. I ask him who he is…..this time.

Recently, I had my beloved tattoo artist, Sage, transfer this work onto my calf. It is lovingly brushed on in so light an ink style that everyone who sees it asks; “Is that done with a marker? Is it real? Is it temporary?”

At the USCA14 conference I met a wondrous soul, Tez Anderson. He has co-founded an terrific organization, Let’s Kick ASS, for long term AIDS survivors that works to combat the emotional and physical toll these past decades have wrung from us. What amazing work. As we spoke of life and loss and memory and forward motion Tez said something that changed me, forever. In speaking of those we had loved and lost he said:

“We must carry them lightly”

And now, forevermore as I move onward into the future I never thought I’d have, I know that as I do with my tattoo, I will carry the memories of those I have lost lightly, in honor and joy at the time we had together, and purposely lighten the weight I have imposed on myself in order to be fully present and alive, right now.

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You’ve Got Mail

You’ve Got Mail

 Surprise, it’s not Avon Calling, it’s AARP knocking.   Or rather, slipping insidiously into our mailboxes, as if on some predetermined cue card, letting us know that we have reached that dubious Rubicon of Rage, the Half Century mark.

How the hell did this happen? Our first reaction is to toss, and toss again, and to keep tossing these now quickeningly frequent missives; as if by ignoring them we can halt the inexorable progression of our lives.

But we are in a netherworld from which the view is unclear, in either direction. We hate looking back, it reminds us what is now lost to us, past, fled too quickly into the realms of myth and mystery. To look forward is more than frightening as well; who among us relishes our increasing age and infirmity and the indignities that we have seen befall our parents and grandparents as they aged-out, before our eyes, into oblivion.

When we were young, if we grew tired of our rented flat we would go in search of another………we moved…….…we upgraded………we expanded. When the view from where we were faded into familiarity, we simply moved on, in search of the better, the more, the new, the best.

As we grew older and planted some tenuous roots, we owned our first homes. As we outgrew them either physically or emotionally, we again looked around, saw what struck our next fancy, and moved forward, up, bigger, more.…..….again; as Jackson Browne so melodically told us; “…moving further on…..”

Now we are settled, adult, kids gone, big houses in the past, our needs are simpler, our space and needs less demanding. We have right-sized ourselves as social construct dictates we should at our age. We have what we need and we need less than what we have, undoubtedly.

And then, along comes AARP telling us to re-invent ourselves; Life Re-imagined, that’s their new jaunty push for the over 50 set that we now fall in amongst.

But here’s the catch.

Our bodies now betray our mind’s ability to do that reinvention that we are so desperately seeking to attain. We have worked all our lives to get to a point where we can take a deep breath, look around the wide world and see what percolates up for a new adventure, a next career, a mindful entertainment. We have the time, the resources, the aching will…………but we also are busy carting around our aching bodies which protest and reject us at every turn as we fitfully start out on each of the new paths that appear before us. Looking entirely enticing and alluring, yet requiring a greater degree of energy than we had previously remembered, each alteration of course now is more demanding and requires greater outputs of both the physical and mental faculties.

I cry False Advertising.

What we really need is to absorb the lessons AARP so fervently wants us to learn in our dotage when we are still young and able-bodied enough to put them to good use. Youth is wasted on the young; a truer axiom was never uttered.

What is needed is a forward-looking class taught by a backward-leaning teacher. Someone to instill in the energetic young of today’s world of possibilities the pause that they need to take to imagine their lives as they stretch out in front of them. Teach possibilities. Teach potentials. Teach realities. Teach truth.

How many of us are having exactly the same conversations at every dinner party and with every friend of a certain age………that age being our age?

 

My hip is bad

My foot is killing me

My back is shot

My………….fill in the failing body part……..sucks

It is the ultimate irony that now that we have the time and the interest, we don’t have the physical stamina to tackle all those fascinating and fun things that have waited out there tantalizingly tempting us for decades. If our kids used this type of an excuse in grade school we would never, ever, have believed them. Shirkers. Lay-abouts. Lazy. We’d have decried their boredom.

And so, with a resignment only garnered from experience, we gird our loins, hitch up our braces and elastic bands and buckles, and stumble forward keeping care to not really stumble or there’s a hip replacement in our near future. In reality, those hips have probably already been replaced, more than once, and because they’re “like new” our other parts, whether through jealousy or simple re-alignment related realities, groan and protest and flare and inflame for their fair share of the Medicare dollars that they feel they deserve and for which we, their unwilling foils, spend our days making appointments; for doctors, physician’s assistants (doctors-light), MRIs,

“Do you have any metal objects implanted in your body?”

“Have you looked at my medical file? The one that fills a full gig of memory on your computer? Just key in ‘XRay’ and see what pops up. Don’t ask me that again, Tammy, I talk to you………every other week.”

physical therapists. And that’s just the traditional medical milieu.

Let us not give short shrift to the massage therapists, yoga instructors, Reike practitioners, psychic alignment shamans, crystal healers, and copper band Internet hawkers. They too, take up a significant amount of our time, money, and quite frankly, the verve that I was planning on devoting to hiking the Appalachian Trail, skydiving the wine country and swimming with sharks…….oh wait……I may have that last one covered…….Insurance Companies may be equatable here. But I digress.

As a youthful student, I used to relish “calling in dead” for a class or a shift and cutting out to sail, beach, or play. As a less-than-youthful senior, I decry when I have to, for medical reasons mostly, call off one of the many volunteer gigs I have committed to. It riles me no end that my body betrays my intentions to a degree that I find beyond irritating, infuriating.

You know you have reached “an age” when you automatically check the “yes, I’d like the travel insurance” with that ticket purchase because, more than once already, you’ve had to avail yourself of the hassle-ridden, change my flight adventure…and paid through the nose for the privilege of doing it. Suddenly, $25.00 seems a very reasonable price to pay to not have to worry when that broken ankle or unexpected gall bladder op impinges on a perfectly plotted and planned holiday.

And whose carry-on contains more prescriptions than prophylactics? When did “Don’t leave home without it?” come to mean Imodium AND Ex-Lax?

When did carefree become careful?

I believe AARP has that answered.

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