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    Inconvenient Truth


    By John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney

    No aspect of the 2016 election was more unsettling for us than being forced to confront one of life’s most discomforting but universal truths: despite our best efforts to direct a particular result, ultimately we cannot control what happens.

    No one knows this truth more deeply than a good friend of ours who, as the final weeks of the election campaign were unfolding, was forced to confront it in the most profound and personal way possible: he learned that the cancer he had been diagnosed with a year earlier had metastasized and was spreading aggressively. He had just a short time left to live. Lying on a hospital bed at home under hospice care, he learned the results of the election. The news troubled him greatly even though he would soon be gone. He no longer had the time or capability to check news sources or follow the particulars of the drama taking place. He knew the essentials of what was going on and had deep concern for the future of all of us left behind.

    Our friend, who had spent his entire work life in HIV/AIDS prevention and education, had practiced meditation for many years and invited friends to come sit in meditation with him every morning in his apartment. He grounded us in our breath and guided us in letting go of any tension we were holding in our bodies. He invited us to clear our minds of negative thoughts and emotions that were not helping us.

    He offered that while not ignoring harmful things going on, we could view life as an art gallery, seeing beauty and goodness all around us. Our friend had realized that in life “there’s always something else left to do,” but he felt his life was complete. He was radiant. He accepted his impending death and did not fear it. He was grateful for his life, and we were all grateful for him as well. As he was dying, he was clearly very much alive. He said goodbye.

    But he didn’t die as he thought he would. Even as he had done the ultimate letting go—accepting, even welcoming his death—life would not let him go just yet. He joked, “I’d really like to be able to have a date I could mark on the calendar for everyone.” Being alive was painful for him both physically and emotionally, and he couldn’t control when he would go. “I’m ready to be gone, but I’m still here.” Most importantly, our friend’s heart remained open. He continued to speak of love and compassion.  His good intentions sustained him, even when he fell short.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address in 1932 proclaimed: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Roosevelt in the same address declared: “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly.” Our good friend has confronted the fear of death and has been able to choose not to indulge it. He has given us the gift of sharing the truth of the last days of life frankly and boldly. Perhaps his wisdom is part of our way forward.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.