With all the excitement about marriage equality, it’s easy to forget that the dying is also a part of life. In a moving piece in The New York Times, journalist Dudley Clendinen has reminded us just how much joy life can hold, even when you know it’s limited. Clendinen, co-author of Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America, was diagnosed late last year with A.L.S., or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating and ultimately fatal neurological disorder.
“At the moment, for 66, I look pretty good,” Clendinen writes. “I’ve lost 20 pounds. My face is thinner. I even get some “Hey, there, Big Boy,” looks, which I like. I think of it as my cosmetic phase.” However, not too far in the future, Clendinen will soon be trapped in his body, as it withers away mercilessly.
Clendinen, a former correspondent for the Times, has been able to handle the diagnosis with grace and good humor. “For 22 years, I have been going to therapists and 12-step meetings,” he says. “They helped me deal with being alcoholic and gay. They taught me how to be sober and sane. They taught me that I could be myself, but that life wasn’t just about me. They taught me how to be a father. And perhaps most important, they taught me that I can do anything, one day at a time. “
Clendinen says that he will forgo aggressive treatments that will just delay the inevitable. Instead, he has an exit plan when his health deteriorates further. In the meantime, he says, “I’m having a wonderful time.” Recently a friend brought him a recording of a Leonard Cohen concert, which include “Dance Me to the End of Love.” “That’s the way I feel about this time. I’m dancing, spinning around, happy in the last rhythms of the life I love. When the music stops — when I can’t tie my bow tie, tell a funny story, walk my dog, talk with [his daughter] Whitney, kiss someone special, or tap out lines like this — I’ll know that Life is over.”
In the meantime, though, Clendinen is showing the world what life is all about.