(This guest post comes to us from David Mixner, former strategist and adviser to several presidential campaigns, including those for McGovern, Clinton, and Gephardt. He currently works as an activist for AIDS, LGBT rights, and wildlife. David writes from Turkey Hollow, his home in upstate New York. ~a.b.)
This week, I was thrilled by the response to the New York Times article on my life here in Turkey Hollow. Countless readers, friends and long lost contacts e-mailed and called to catch up and learn more about my rural sanctuary in upstate New York. Inevitably, however, almost all of them asked the same sensitive question: “Aren’t you lonely up there?”
This question is not new to me. Since I moved almost a year ago, many of my friends and especially my political allies have endlessly inquired about my loneliness and isolation. I usually brush their questions off with some quick witty one liner before assuring them that I am doing just fine and moving the conversation along to other topics. I’ve come to realize, however, that treating such a loving inquiry in this way is just not consistent with the honest and simple life I have built in Turkey Hollow.
The article actually gave me a gift for which I am very grateful. With so many people inquiring about my existence in Turkey Hollow, I had to confront the question myself. Offering one liners to deflect the issue and then getting busy feeding apples to the deer isn’t an honest way to process the choices that I have made. Reflecting on my own loneliness hasn’t been easy, but the process of finding personal enlightenment has been exhilarating.
You see, I live in Turkey Hollow because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Those of us who have survived the last 25 years have chosen many different ways to get on with life. At times, I have blissfully continued on as though the sickness, death, and abandonment by many of our institutions and certainly our government had never happened. Those painful early years, when so much was lost, are just too horrible to relive, to confront and to even understand. It is difficult to process that my community lived through such horror, let alone me personally.
These memories are recalled more easily, however, within the context of the LGBT community’s heroic struggle against HIV/AIDS. Together, we somehow found solutions to insurmountable problems, saving those we could and celebrating those we could not. We found the gifts in our darkness and are still offering them to the world. Instead of fear and panic, we embraced our struggle and built upon it. . After all, isn’t courage just a lack of options?
Nevertheless, the trauma of that time remains, even here in my new home. Sometimes I am lonely living in Turkey Hollow, but I have been lonely in some form since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
How could I not be lonely? I lost nearly 300 friends to AIDS. Within a two year period, I gave more than 90 eulogies for friends who had died of AIDS, most of whom were under 40 years of age. One activist group that I belonged to in the late 1970s had 30 male members, and I am the only one that is still alive. I spent most of my 30s and 40s taking care of the sick and dying, fighting for our survival, and struggling to hold on to some kind of equilibrium, so I wouldn’t become bitter at my own country for letting its young die without a fight.
Yes, we were courageous and noble and powerful and beautiful through it all, but no matter how you cut it, to live through that period was simply a horror. All of us who made it through were wounded in some way and all of us have had to come to terms with what we experienced.
For me, I have had to grow old without my peers. Without my friends to share the history of those joyous moments before AIDS hit - the flourishing of the Castro Street area, the excitement of the sexual revolution, the sheer high of coming out of the closet and the early days of our struggle for freedom. What a time it was to be alive and to be gay. I loved every day before the darkness hit. I would love to be able to sit around at dinner parties with friends no longer here and reminisce of those glorious days.
As I emerged from that profound experience, I made some powerful commitments to myself. One, that I would never let those who died be forgotten. Two, I would live life as if I was living for us all. Three, I would refuse to become a victim and an object of pity. Four, I would take the gifts we received from their lives and offer them to the world and finally, I would surround myself with beauty, joy, nature, loving people and be grateful for each day.0707090026
In Turkey Hollow, my loneliness is surrounded by beauty. When guests come, I have intense wonderful visits with them instead of quick short dinners. My mind has never been more creative and excited. The horrors of those years seem so far away from me now. The fawns remind me of renewal, the seasons of change and the quiet of peace.
Yes, I am lonely at times. Given my life’s journey, there is no place, no matter how crowded, where I can’t be lonely. But I am happy here, surrounded by beauty, energized by extraordinary visits with my dear friends, living at one with nature and feeling more productive and at peace than ever.
(David blogs at Live from Turkey Hollow)