David Mixner: Reflections From An Intensive Care Unit


ICUAs many of you know, recently I went through another tough patch with my health. For near a dozen days I was in an Intensive Care Unit in New York City in critical condition. This latest was a rough one and the most challenging emotionally, spiritually and physically of my life. The pain was extraordinary, the odds were uphill and my body and soul were just plain tired.

One night in the darkness of the unit, I looked through dozens of tubes and lights next to my bed into the snowy sky over the East River. Ironically the silhouetted tubes seem like tree branches and the lights like stars as the beauty of the snow laid beyond them. Without any dramatic Bette Davis moment, a strange peace had overcome the pain and I reflected on the choice of fighting to live — or perhaps it was time to let go and begin another remarkable adventure.

After all, I have given 54 years of my exciting life to serving others and working for justice, freedom and equality. One of my heroes is the martyred liberationist theologist Archbishop Oscar Romero. That night in intensive care a favorite quote from the Archbishop came to mind:

“Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be.”

Years ago I had learned that each and everyone of us is dispensable, that history will record little of our journey and that thankfully there are thousands behind us equally equipped to lift the banner of freedom and justice. For me, the concept of moving on is not one of sadness or unfinished work but just part of the process of completing this part of the journey.

That night in ICU, as the clanging of bells and whistles demanded the attention of a nurse to replace one of the dozens of bags hanging next to my bed, I knew that the choice was mine. I could move on and embark on a totally new adventure or choose to continue to fight here. Not because I was desperately needed but because just maybe a decision to live to fight for freedom might, just might, inspire a couple more young people in these urgent times to join this epic struggle for freedom and justice.

As is usually the case, the next day provided my answer.

Each morning my friend Gary Belis brought in a ton of newspapers to keep me informed. Being impacted heavily by the enormous number of medications, Gary would thoughtfully find the most important stories and made sure they were read to me or highlighted so I wouldn’t miss them.

That morning the papers were full of people embracing God to hide their hate including President Putin in Russia, President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria, and Governor Brownback in Kansas. LGBT citizens were being dragged out of their homes in Nigeria, fleeing the coming oppression in Uganda and being rounded up in Russia. Even the brutal Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych found time to condemn homosexuality as he killed his own people.

Gary had made sure I saw the new tactic by the authoritarian right in America to allow anyone to discriminate against LGBT Americans simply by proclaiming it was their religious belief and God’s will. The proposed (and eventual passage of) legislation in Arizona quickly reminded me of the segregation of my childhood. Our churches would hold our picnics at ‘private lakes’ which charged 25 cents so that they could keep out the blacks who used the State Park just down the road.

After all, it was God’s will not to mix the races and shouldn’t white Americans have the freedom to hate, discriminate and separate because of their personal religious beliefs?

Let’s be honest. Arizona’s law is not about religious freedom either. It is simply a new tactic so those who hate LGBT Americans can continue to wear white sheets and hide behind a deity to practice that hate.

20140222_134027Later in the day, I was visited by Father Michael who listened carefully as I asked if it was time to ‘let go’. That brilliant conversation and a later one with my sister, Patsy, provided the answer to my pressing question.

I wanted to fight to live.


Every tyrant, every person filled with hate, every oppressor of LGBT citizens and every person who would make God a person of hate must know that each and every one of us who care about our freedom will fight to literally our dying breath to defeat them. No matter where they are located, how much power they have and what brutality they used against us, they can not defeat us simply because our determination to breath the air of freedom will bring us victory.

If I seriously believed that, then I have to live it.

The choice was clear and I have to continue with the battle until I can’t lift my head any longer. Not because I am special or indispensable but because I am one of you and each and everyone one of us is needed. By continuing to embrace life, I am one more voice that refuses to be silenced until our children can live in total freedom.

After all Archbishop Romero believed that sin was simply to do nothing in the face injustice, war and poverty. My ‘fellow travelers’ in life always have been those who believe the Archbishop’s words:

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.

That day I made my decision to fight on no matter how hard the obstacles, or what was required of me.

What about you? What is your decision?