An essay from guest Gero-Punk
“All the good wasn’t good and all the bad wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t happenstance.”
Kerrigan Black, my partner of 16 years, wrote those lyrics to his song, “Someone is Watching Over Me.”
He wrote it in 1985, just after he had tested HIV+. I subsequently tested the same. So, two men, in 1985, began carrying a very heavy burden of a then fatal medical condition, not to be known by or revealed to virtually anyone else.
At the age of 39, Kerrigan died a very painful and tragic death in 1993. Intellectually, I prepared myself for his leaving this life and my life. But I had absolutely no comprehension of the total devastation that continued, and continued.
Every day a new “never” popped up, realizing that he would never pick me up at the airport on a return trip, never would I marvel at his amazing smile. Never again, never again.
Kerrigan very mistakenly believed that he would not die, since he was a “good person.” I later realized that life is not fair or unfair, life just “is.”
In the 20 years since his death, I’ve often felt like being dragged through shards of glass. I called myself a bereavement group groupie, attending about 9 different groups in the first two years.
My being HIV+ and now having had AIDS for over 20 years, has deeply affected my life.
The ultimate conundrum: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.” What a dilemma.
My having AIDS is the second death sentence in my life. I was born in 1946 with a heart condition that would ultimately cause me to die in my early twenties.
My parents diligently pursued the very limited options of that time. Finally, in the late 1950s, a successful approach was concluded to try and save my life.
In 1959, a 4-hour, open-heart surgery operation was successfully completed on me. A heart-lung machine pumped my blood for 8 minutes while the surgeons repaired a heart valve on my stopped heart.
So to make a long story very long, my views of life, death, aging, living well as I age and evolve, brought me to the point of working toward equanimity, completely believing in serendipity, and focusing on three basic Buddhist principles.
Religion per se plays no direct role in my life, but I’m influenced by religions precepts and concepts that I appreciate.
I transformed the Christians’ belief in “Let Go and Let God” to my own “Let Go and Let the Cosmos.” I know that “out there” is so far beyond my comprehension that it’s not important to me to find answers or even ask questions.
I find it liberating to know that I know almost nothing, so I don’t have to “prove” myself. I no longer beat myself up. I believe that my “mistakes” are actually an amazing way to learn, so I now describe them as “things not to repeat.”
I resonate with the Black church’s belief that “He may not come when you want Him, but He’s right on time.” I interpret that, for me, to be patient: life will unfold for me on its schedule, not mine.
Buddhism stresses mindfulness, impermanence, and inevitable suffering of everyone (dukkha).
Incorporating these three beliefs into my own belief system allows me to accept and appreciate a great deal that I did not think was possible for me.
As I age, I need to be very careful of falling down because of my osteoporosis. I cannot break any more bones. In my first three years in Portland, I broke three bones, requiring surgery: hip, knee, and wrist. This occurred because I was angry (once) and not paying attention (twice.)
So, in practical terms, I now focus very specifically on what I’m doing and am very cognizant of how I move, very careful getting in and out of the shower, very careful in using power tools.
But philosophically, being mindful allows me to appreciate so many more things, just by paying attention. I love watching my three chickens scratch and happily coo in my backyard park; watch birds splash in my waterfall; enjoy the amazing Portland clouds as they traverse the sky. Watch the magnificent salmon and blue sunsets. Simple but important things (to me).
I also realize that nothing is permanent, the only constant in life is constant change. Thus I believe that I own nothing; I am guardian of “things” that come and go in my life, and I appreciate the fact that they enhanced and sometimes continue to enhance my life.
I acknowledge and (intellectually) accept the reality of Kerrigan’s death. I now focus on the appreciation of him being in my life and what he brought to me.
The inevitably of suffering levels all humans and makes us all equal in reality of birth, living, and death.
To minimize my emotional suffering and physical pain, I focus on what I have and what I can do, not what I’ve lost and cannot do. I slow down.
I no longer worry about anything. Alfred E. Neuman, from “Mad” magazine of the Fifties, continues to influence me with his goofy smile and encouraging one to believe in “What, Me Worry?” I consciously eliminated worry from my life as a requirement for me living another 25 years.
I eliminated anger, resentment, bitterness, and replaced it with gratitude and thankfulness. I did this in the same way my father quit smoking: I stopped. I stopped anger cold turkey.
My physical age is certainly 66, but my mental attitude is about 25. I allow the universe to enter my life at all times, so often in wonderfully unexpected ways.
Rather than “aging in place,” I perceive myself to be ever evolving.
I attempt to use the word “not” only with one other word: “Why not?”
One day at a time, one week at a time, one year at a time, one lifetime at a time.
A bit about Larry Cross:
My life began (in Oelwein, Iowa) on December 4, 1946, being born to Virginia and Wayne Cross, two very loving and exceptional parents.
I remember a wonderfully happy childhood. The Sixties profoundly affected me. I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1970 and loved being there, with its focus on all of the arts.
I then spent 3 quarters at the University of Oregon, graduating in May 1971 with a Masters Degree in Library Science.
My moving to Berkeley, California, in September 1971, proved to be the molding event of my life. I enjoyed working as a reference and outreach librarian at the Richmond Public Library for 7 years.
Kerrigan Black and I met in 1977, and we were together for 16 years, “until death do us part,” in 1993.
I sought to “simply my life” by moving to Portland in 2001. “God Laughs When You Make Plans.” But I greatly appreciate that I’ve finally achieved that goal.
I now work toward an “encore career” as an accessibility consultant. I very consciously designed my wonderful home, that I began renovating in 2006, so that I can live here (safely and successfully) for the rest of my life.
I strive for equanimity and fully embrace serendipity. Humility and gratitude, for everything and everyone, now guide me.