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?


  1. BRAINS says

    God Bless you David; but beware of the institution of religion, it is a false community designed to enslave and dominate mankind. The sooner we cast it adrift in the draining sink of useless institutions the better for mankind. Supporting its disciples only makes it stronger!

  2. Randi Reitan says

    I love you, David. You have been a gift to me as a mother. You will continue to be a gift to the movement in so many ways. You are right… we must stop the spiritual violence in our nation and across the world. May you feel God’s love and love of us all as you regain your strength and health. I am going to save this post and read it often. It is beautiful and a reminder that we all are needed if we are to see the day of equality.

  3. Ron Windsor says

    God bless you, David. You are in my prayers. You have given so much hope and inspiration to so many in the GLBT community. We still need you, so hang in there!

  4. Austin says


    Focus on getting well. Thank you for your beautiful words. I agree with the sentiment, we must fight on.


    Let us not make this article about religion. It is David’s choice for his life, and he is sharing with us his reasons. We should respect that and focus on keeping allies together.

  5. bill says

    David….I am inspired by your post. Thank you for sharing your struggles with all of us.
    Archbishop Romero is also my personal hero.
    I am sure that he is with you in this difficult time. You are in my prayers.

  6. Susan says

    David, I am so thankful for your example of courage and grace under fire, your life and your words give me hope and fuel my fire. Thank you for you and for you do and have done. Long ago you gave me light in my time in the great darkness, and here you are doing it again. Know you make a difference to me.

  7. T.s. says

    Dear, David,

    Thank you so much for this. In the face of the growing outrage machine which places its energy incorrectly and does little actual activism, seeks no real solutions, it is a tonic to read something so reflective of a real fighter. Without angrily calling out any of this, it is a reminder that as much new forms of push-button activism seem to be designed with personal comfort in mind (and are therefore rather useless), in the face of mounting hate and a sense of hopelessness, there is still joy in the struggle if what we keep in mind is the safety, happiness and liberation of others.

    I am sad that I have to say this, too, but other commenters leave me no choice: I am happy that you find allies in all walks and creeds. I do not comprehend how anyone can speak so cavalierly with disdain toward the language of one who has just suffered so immensely, has proved his mettle and intelligence through years of writing and activism, and has delivered now such a wonderful message. I do not comprehend how they can respond with such a lack of perspective and respect in such a general and dismissive terms about you and your relationship to belief and believers. I can’t believe that I have to mention it and even become an apologist for basic unity based on compassion and mutual sense of justice outside of faith, to tacitly become an apologist for religion (which I generally loathe, personally), especially following THIS sort of essay. But here we are.

    Thank you again and keep up the great work of responsible scholarship, outreach, and basic kindness that is absolutely necessary in this long and wearying fight. You are loved.

  8. emjayay says

    I’m not a believer, but I do know a bit about Christianity and the Bible, having gone to a Jesuit university and having to take four years of theology.

    The American Christianist haters talk about Jesus all the time, but they exhibit no interest or understanding of anything he was about whatsoever. Without believing any of it, I can see the good in many religions.

    The Christianists much prefer pulling quotes from the old testament, a compilation of various sorts of mostly originally oral history and explanations of the world they had no understanding of and rules they made up by pre-scientific pre-critical thinking illiterate bronze age people, who were in some cases being oppressed and in others doing the oppressing. They also like to pull a few quotes from Paul, who made up his own stuff after Jesus was gone and bring up some apocalyptic stuff that’s in there also. And they don’t begin to understand the literary forms of any of it.

    They see they are on a shrinking island of ignorance and intolerance and want to put up walls around it. Unfortunately this impacts everyone else outside the walls.

  9. dwarka says

    Wow this is just such an extraordinary and beautiful post, David. What a gift you are to our community and humanity in general. I choose to fight with you. Thank you.

  10. MickyFlip says

    A beautiful article. Thank you Mr. Mixner for your courage. It was absolutely inspiring. I wish you all the best and a speedy recovery. Get well soon. Sending positive vibes.

  11. Todd Elmer says

    Thank you, David, for all you have done and all you do for the betterment of so many. But most of all, thank you for making the choice to stay here with us a while longer. We are all the better for your choice. Much love and light and gratitude and celebration to you.

  12. Mark says

    Dear David – we are the same age, and you have done so much more than me in the fight and in the love for our community. Your essay informs me that it’s my turn to do more – fight for and share love for our community. You will be buoyed by so many who value your spirit. Never give up as you will know when it’s truly time to leave…

  13. stranded says

    I’m so sorry to hear of Mixner’s illness. I have’t always agreed with him but I’m grateful for the service he’s given for our cause. We must support each other. My gay family is all I have, and if they are there for me when I get sick or am in serious need, as I am there for them. This extends beyond our personal health, and Mixner has proven repeatedly that he’s a committed leader. Best wishes David for your health and I look forward to your continued success as a light in our community.

  14. T. Rees says

    What an inspiring and honest essay. You have made so many positive contributions to so many people! This essay is among them! Wishing you the best…..with sincere healthy wishes and prayers.

  15. says

    If it’s the fight for equality that keeps you going you had better get yourself fit and gird your loins because (to paraphrase Bette Davis) there’s a bumpy road ahead.

    Don’t let the day to day antagonisms wear you out. Activism has spread like the bird flu and the messenger sometimes becomes the message. Every teenager with a cell phone and a twitter account is now an activist. It helps and it hinders but it is what it is. We can’t control it all.

    Do some reflective story telling. Most of the young activists today have little information on the personal side of early activism. Those are stories that need to be told and kept as part of our history.

    We are each others family. We may not agree on everything but what family does? Disagreement sometimes leads to enlightenment and a change of heart. We just alwsya need to remember to speak to each other and not at each other. That other person is a human too.

    Get well David. This might be the best part of the bumpy ride.

  16. Jerry says

    David, please get well and stay well!
    I found your sharing your inter dialogue about the moment inspiring. Also being a senior, does gives us a different perspective. And sort of being in your generation does document that we have been to the Mountain. I have found out that life is easier when you surrender to your destiny. It helps me stay out of my way. These health challenges that pop up do remind us that we are mortals and have to keep our ears to the ground. I pacify myself with the idea that if you can imagine what can go wrong with our physical bodies, it is AMAZING that anything works.

    Years ago, I visited a shrine in Tokyo and pulled a Fortune stick (don’t know exactly what they are called) The message that I received was not exactly what I wanted to hear but what I needed to know at that moment. The message was “polish the stone or you will be another pebble by the wayside”. As a senior it does make sense? You are a gem.

    Keep on keeping on


  17. roger says

    David, I wish you a speedy recovery. You are an important person in the scheme of history. Don’t downplay your own role in contributing to the rights of others.

  18. Rees Cramer says

    David, my friend I must say I rather enjoy getting to tell you that you are right in being wrong. It was not your time. God doesn’t need you yet, We do!

    As for history, I think you have done quite well for yourself. The milestones on the journey of our community have your finger prints upon them. I am inspired and know I have much to do. so your not allowed to leave us yet. I suspect God can be patient.

    Besides I still need to sit with you a while and have you impart some of that wisdom to me.

    Get better and God Bless.

    Rees Cramer

  19. says

    Dear, darling, wonderful, powerful, sweet David. I could go on but there aren’t enough words to tell you how you are loved by so many and what you have meant to those who’s lives you’ve touched. I join them in applauding your choice to persevere; something you are familiar with, from caring for loved ones, holding some as they slipped into that good night, to politics and taking to the streets; activities we sometimes shared back in those terrible/remarkable days of loss, protest and wonder. I was thinking about the Chicago Democratic Convention and that first national AIDS leadership protest arrest in DC during the 1987 International AIDS Conference. And I’ve been thinking about your wonderful autobiographical theater piece. You have had a wonderful life filled with amazing people and made an enormous contribution and I wish you many, many, great days of comfort, pleasure, curiosity, and healing, but mostly I wish you a peaceful heart and strong body. I send you love.

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