A Letter to David Mixner
One of my heroes is David Mixner, who has been fighting for civil and equal rights throughout his career. His new book At Home with Myself will be released this month, which explores his time living in the rural town of Turkey Hollow, NY, and promises to be worth the read. (You can pre-order it on Amazon.) I follow his blog regularly, and find his work thoughtful, incisive, and always well-written.
A few years ago, he wrote a really touching piece on aging and loneliness in the era of hiv/AIDS, which I’m betting has ended up in his book. It moved me deeply, and I wrote a note back, which he was gracious enough to share with his readers.
In celebration of his new book, I offer my letter to you:
Just wanted to thank you for the elegant essay you wrote on your site about your home, HIV/AIDS, and loneliness. It truly was both beautiful and touching.
There was a time in my life where death was all around me. I worked and volunteered at AIDS Project Los Angeles, cared for my lover through his death, and watched numerous friends and acquaintances perish as well. Though at the time our community seemed solid, focused and galvanized, now very few of us seem to even “remember when.” Not only is our focus gone, but the complacency we are left with seems a supremely unfitting tribute to all of those whom we have lost.
I would never have imagined that I could go from the life I lead then, to the one I’m leading now. Today, I am the adoptive father of two amazing kids, and my days are full of life and love and living. And yet even now, I know that my ability to parent is directly formed through my experiences as a caretaker for my lover and friends, guiding them to their deaths.
Few people in my life now seem to be able to connect with the emotions of such collective loss, acting instead as if it is something in some ancient history book. “Oh, yeah–I remember AIDS!” Have we lost the ability to connect with each other? Is the pain so great that we have just shut down? Is it denial? Apathy? Ignorance?
Several months ago there was a cover story in the LA Times about the NAMES quilt and how it now lays largely in a warehouse in Atlanta, gathering dust. And yet there is a woman there who tends the quilt, who has been there since that first day in SF with Cleve Jones. She works endlessly, patching and mending panels as they are returned from exhibits. She plays dance music to “her boys” as she works, often alone late at night, and wonders why people have forgotten.
I feel a real affinity for that woman. The pain and sorrow I feel for my losses at times seems almost unbearable. And then one of my boys will call out, and the moment is gone, replaced by a dull ache. As much as I want “life,” it is essential to somehow hold onto this part of our past and carry it with us, so that those we’ve lost will live on in our memories…
We need leaders able to harness our collective pain and anger, and help us channel it productively in creating a better world.