On the Desire Not To Die with the Demented

09Oct07

According to an article in The Times today, “[h]omophobia directed at the elderly has many faces.” We learn of home health aides who “must be reminded not to wear gloves at inappropriate times, for example while opening the front door or making the bed, when there is no evidence of H.I.V. infection.” We learn of an “openly gay man without family or friends” — i.e., a gay recluse — who was “recently moved off his floor to quiet the protests of other residents and their families” and “given a room among patients with severe disabilities or dementia.” We learn that “[t]he most common reaction, in a generation accustomed to being in the closet, is a retreat back to the invisibility that was necessary for most of their lives, when homosexuality was considered both a crime and a mental illness.”

We think of post-war American fiction and recently visited towns in the Adirondacks, and reassess our conclusion that both landscapes are less hostile than oblivious to our presence. We feel strangely tongue-tied and sullen as we consider the present and — even worse — the future; are you really so surprised that our preference is to have tea in Venice with Henry James? Or that our most fervent prayer — the one we repeat every night and every morning — is to die alone in our garden, after our fingertips have been granted one final caress by the weeping Serbian spruce (picea omorika pendula) we have so tenderly nurtured?

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