Living Life On Death's Game Board genre: Do Not Resuscitate


In the aftermath of my sisters serious illness this past week, I couldn't help but share my contemplations on life's strange relationship with death. While we often do our best to avoid the subject, it consistently finds the means to inject itself into our consciousness. As she continues to recover, those of us who know and love her are forced to confront our fears.

For most of us, life is an orderly procession towards death. When we're young, death is barely a blip on our radar...and one that we're able to ignore with ease. During our youth, the world seems limitless and time is bountiful. Each day is an adventure with potential and the promises of the future appear to be endless.

As the years pass, the distant drum of death grows more pronounced. Like a surreptitious riff in each song of life, eventually death demands its due and it becomes increasingly unlikely that we can deny its presence. Sometimes it's the untimely death or the unexpected illness of a loved one or a family friend that awakens us to the fragility of life and the indiscriminate nature of dying. Whatever it may be, our introduction to immortality opens a door that can never again be closed.

For some of us, death walks nearby on a daily basis. In fact, for the gay community, even the most basic of acts has become an untoward dance with death. From the moment a gay teenager imagines his first romance, he must also ponder its potential to shorten his life. We are a community that is denied the opportunity to become brides and grooms, yet we live life forever wed to the possibility that a demonstration of love may set the stage for the final act.

Giving oneself to another has always contained an element of vulnerability. However, when catching the love bug has the potential to be accompanied by an infectious interloper, this innocent act of vulnerability is suddenly transformed into a calculation of calamitous consequences. Though passion is an inevitability; vigilance becomes a necessity. Hence, the pleasure of intimacy can be forever shadowed by the fear of fatality.

HIV isn't exclusive to the gay community, but it is an undeniable adjunct. Every parent of a gay son is torn between their hopes for his happiness and their desire to postpone his pursuit of it. In that difficult dichotomy, one could easily conclude that the risks outweigh the rewards and that the lives of gays are forever filled with trepidation. That would be a reasonable assumption...but it would also be wrong.

In fact, it is in witnessing the loss of those who chose to live life spite of the obstacle of AIDS...that has given the gay community much of its resolve and its resiliency. Truth be told, what unites my memories of those I have lost to HIV was their unflinching desire to live. For each of them, life was not measured in years. Instead, their lives were never allowed to be overshadowed by the fear of death. They knew that all lives end in death...and they rejected the deception that believes one can be enriched by purchasing more years at the expense of less living. The richness of the memories they left behind affirms both the quantity and the quality of the living they did.

In that knowledge, my own view of life has been forever altered. While illness and death still give me pause; I refuse to let them dictate life. Death is not negotiable and attempts to barter with it are far more beguiling than beneficial. Death is undoubtedly an endpoint but it needn't be a constantly constricting continuum. Death may be our final visitor but we mustn't feed it by granting it a place at the table of life. Death will kill us but it needn't prevent us from feasting on life. Death is final; it needn't be preceded by famine.

When life is at risk of being overcome by death, we can cease living in order to watch the monitor...hoping for the slightest of movements to assure us that we still reside in the here and now...or we can turn away from the monitor and place our trust in the heart that has sustained us during our darkest of hours. The former adds a flawed footnote; the latter an exclamation mark.

I accept that death will ultimately prevail...but I refuse to let it dictate that the ending must be a slowly measured fade to black. If life is like theater, I prefer to be an actor on the bright and colorful stage of full regalia...when the final act goes dark with the sudden flip of a switch.

When that moment arrives, I'll stop and silently thank my many mentors for teaching me the merits of living...and for the guidance to make a gracious exit.

Tagged as: Death, Dying, HIV, Illness, LGBT, Life

Daniel DiRito | March 29, 2008 | 11:04 PM
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1 On March 31, 2008 at 9:49 AM, Ben in oakland wrote —

Beautiful, daniel.

2 On April 8, 2008 at 9:29 AM, Greg Katz wrote —

Your insights are profound. For years I worked in HIV Services and gained unique access into the lives and loves of our clients. The best experience was facilitating a group for HIV+ couples.

We started the group with couples who were both positive and then expanded the group to include mixed status couples. The love stories were amazing. The unrelenting commitment to the relationship was inspiring.

Unfortunately within eight months half the group died. What happened next couldn't have been scripted...the remaining group members became a true family. They continued to support each other emotionally and physically when needed. They created community and that's the biggest lesson about living life with gusto.

Thought Theater at Blogged

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None of us like to contemplate death but the nature of our existence requires it from time to time. For most of us, death is an orderly procession. For others, it can be a persistent threat or a constant concern. Regardless, life should be measured by ... [Read More]

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