When in support group last week, we talked about pain and death. The discussion began with those two topics and went on to coping mechanisms. My mind, however, stayed on the original subjects, forcing me to count the number of deaths in my life, the amount of physical pain, intensity of emotional anxiety, the number of triumphs as well as the number of tragedies.
I've often said that I've lived three lives. And while I haven't been traditionally married and raised children, or been in the military, my life experiences as a gay man and passing through the Age of AIDS have led me to look upon "normal" lives as fraught with less hills and valleys than mine.
I counted ... and counted ... and counted ... the good as well as the bad. 20 different jobs ranging from go-go dancer to broadcaster. 40 years of various pains caused by congenital double scoliosis (causing a mild limp and therapy such as nightly traction for my neck). 1 year (and counting) of married bliss after two beautiful years of "courtship". 50 riot-helmeted policemen facing me down during San Francisco's White Night Riots. 4 doctors looking at me while telling them to take my mother off dialysis so that she could die quickly and painlessly. 50 yards away from home when being shot at. 30 children in San Francisco's dangerous Bayview district seated regularly after school.* 400-500 people signed up for the AIDS Emergency Fund during the worst epidemic years. 5 years of organizing a Christmas party and toys for 400 children with AIDS. 15 deaths of family. 20 deaths of friends. 25 deaths of acquaintances. 1 published autobiography. 9 months with an extremely bi-polar lover. 2 gunshots reported every week for 5 years. 2 cavities in my teeth (really!). 38 years of HIV. 11 years of caregiving. 7 years of blogging on religion and politics.
When we all "checked out", I thanked the group for the realization that through it all ...
I'm still here.
I'm still here. As with most people, the bad times melded with the good times in a bewildering collage. The good times can be as draining as the bad, but I haven't bowed to the pressure of either. Neither have I been completely worn out.*
I'm not looking for praise or sympathy from others, but survival needs self-praise and self-sympathy and only with those two, can you continue to survive. I thought about the song from Follies, sung so eloquently and meaningfully by beautiful Yvonne de Carlo:
Yes, sheer survival can be self-inspiration to keep on living. We all admire survivors - people who have persevered through great odds.
But odds are definitely relative and profoundly individual: like fingers prints, pain and sorrow are unique to every individual. Living life can be inspirational - self-inspirational, if you will. Look at your own life, the sad times as well as the happy ones and if you've survived through it all, give yourself a pat on the back and a tear from your heart: you're still here.
* Subsequently awarded the Jefferson Award for Community Service.
*The great actor George Sanders' (d. age 66) suicide note (wikipedia):
"Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."
David Niven wrote in Bring on the Empty Horses (1975), the second volume of his memoirs, that in 1937 his friend George Sanders had predicted that he would commit suicide when he was 65, and that in his 50s he had appeared to be depressed since his marriages had failed and several tragedies had befallen him.