Most people would say he shouldn’t still be alive, but he is. A heartwrenching excerpt from Robert Levithan’s new book.
(Written on my 60th birthday): If I am not grateful, I am truly a fool. When I turned 40, turning 50 seemed unlikely. When I turned 50, I realized that I had no vision for the coming decade. Today I am 60 and I see that the chapters unfold (I just don’t get to proofread them ahead of time). I was probably already HIV positive when I turned 30. Therefore, being here is just wild and amazing and cool and something to wrap my mind around.
However, chapters end. My dear friend Lois Bianchi died last week. She had lived with a chronic and incurable lung ailment for decades, all the while teaching at the university level here and in Croatia as a Fulbright scholar. Only two years ago she went on safari in Africa. She sold stock to do it and didn’t tell her family she was going for fear they might try to stop her. She was unreasonable. She was stubborn. She was a warrior!
When I first met Lois, in 1980, we were working for the avant-garde theater director and visionary Robert Wilson. For me, back then, a woman in her 40s was more a mentor than a peer (and Lois was an extraordinary mentor to students and colleagues alike), but as the years went on, Lois, in her generosity of spirit, welcomed my maturation into a comrade — someone who could also support her on her journey. Along the way, we traveled to Tuscany, Baja, and the Vineyard. We lost parents and handled our illnesses. In the end, I had the intimate honor to arrive at her deathbed, along with two dear mutual friends, only moments after she quietly passed on. Lois’s spirit lives. Some friends have a hold on our hearts that is eternal.
And here I am, alive. In the 1990s, I was the “designated die-er” in my circle. Only after I rebounded into the previously unknown territory of recovery from AIDS did I see how my family and friends had been understandably organized around the idea that I would be the next one to go. This is a phenomenon that I have come to identify and bust when I see it. Numerous times the seemingly healthy partner or caregiver dies suddenly, due to an undiagnosed illness, an accident, an overdose…. The possibility that we ever know who is leaving next is absurd. All the more reason to make sure that our relationships are up to date and things are not left unsaid. What is better than knowing that your last words to a beloved were “I love you.” That was my grace with Lois.
And chapters continue. My work at Friends In Deed as a counselor and group facilitator fulfills me. I am traveling to Turkey and Greece in June to sail the coast on a chartered gulet (a hybrid between a traditional Turkish working boat and a wooden yacht) for the second time, and in December I will return to South Africa in order to deepen my relationship with that continent. I continue to practice AntiGravity Yoga and go to the gym and take my meds and to create a present with a very possible future. New chapters begin. I’ve published a book, and in my personal life, I am continuing to explore an intimate relationship with another man by meeting and reacquainting myself with wonderful men of varying ages and backgrounds.
Once again, my life is filled with love and great fortune. My 60s opened up with optimism and with the realistic expectation of challenges and opportunities to come. At this point, I should have little fear — if I’ve handled the last six decades, I can handle whatever is coming!