When I was in high school I discovered William Cullen Bryant's poem, "Thanatopsis." The poem which is a meditation on death became a favorite of mine. Though it spoke of death, it did so with a majestic acceptance of that which each of us must experience.
I was probably 14 or 15 years old at the time I first read the poem. Still very much young enough that I felt immortal and invincible. Death was only a remote terminus that I could hardly imagine. Yet, the seeming remoteness of my own death did not diminish my appreciation for the poem.
Almost five decades have now passed since I first read this poem. Death is no longer a remote possibility. Without the miracles of modern medicine, I would have faced it almost at decade ago. By the time one reaches my age, he has seen death many times. Classmates, friends, grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, not necessarily in the proper order, have all had their one rendezvous with death. I find in the experience of all this death and the realization that my own death is not longer remote, the poem is a comfort to me.
While its subject is often seen as morbid, the poem is really not morbid at all. It is instead, a recognition of the inevitability of death; yet an urgent call to life well lived.
I have spoken often in my blog of the fact that living life well as a married bisexual man is a most difficult thing. Male sexuality is a very complex thing. In my opinion, bisexuality is the most complex sexual issue a man can face. As bisexual men, we must overcome the denial some segments of our society still harbor about our very existence. We must overcome the scorn of those who see us as cheaters and liars who are only concerned with our own needs. Even without the overt condemnation of society, most of us must live with our own guilt, shame and self-hatred for years as we attempt to grow into an understanding and acceptance of ourselves for what we are. Many of us never reach the point of acceptance and self-understanding. It can be very illusive in a society where even those who are supposed to forgive others their trespasses and treat each man as his brother somehow find a way to make an exception to that requirement in the case of bisexual men.
Never-the-less, Bryant still calls us to a life well lived as he reminds us of the certain approach of our death. As a blogger about married men and their bisexuality and as a moderator of a group for married bisexual men, I have come into contact with a huge number of married bisexual and married homosexual men over the past fifteen years. Most of these contacts have been via the internet. A few have been personal contacts.
In all the contacts, I have had, I don't think I have ever met a married bisexual man who did not struggle in some way with his sexuality. Some have been lucky enough that their struggle was brief and fairly easy to manage. Others have lived in clinical depression for years because of their sexuality. Still others have become suicidal over the issue.
Unfortunately, among the thousands of men I have talked to regarding their bisexuality, only a minority have found a way to manage it in a way that brings them peace of mind, personal fulfillment and a sense of being whole while at the same time preserving their marriages and family ties.
I see this as tragic because I know men, including myself, who have been able to accomplish all of that and more. The compounding of the tragedy is that so many men I have met simply cannot bring themselves to really even try. They are simply overwhelmed by their fear, their guilt and their shame and they make a conscious, yet unspoken decision to live out their lives in a dark closet.
The truth is one cannot change the fact that he is a bisexual man. He can change the way he sees himself as a bisexual man and the way he lives his life as a bisexual man. It takes courage, it takes help and it takes a sense of self esteem, but it can be done.
I spoke this morning via phone to a friend who lost everything he had, including his wife and sons, because of his sexuality. He spent years trying to figure it all out and put a new life in place for himself. Now in his 50's he has finally managed to do just that. He told me this morning that his only regret was all the years that passed in the struggle that cannot be retrieved now that he has found himself and happiness. All I could tell him was to be thankful for and look ahead to the years he has ahead of himself. True he lost many years, but his is a story of success. At least he tried and he over came. Those who will not or cannot bring themselves to even try are the tragic ones.
"Thanatopsis" is a reminder that we are all equal in life in that we all face uncertainties and trials. Even more, it is a reminder that we are not all equal in death. Some of us reach a point where we can look death in the eye and embrace it knowing we have lived our lives well. Other are overtaken by death still burdened with their fears, their uncertainties, their trials and their failures.
I urge each of you who have not come to a reconciliation with your sexuality to vow to do so as quickly as possible. Find a way to live your life well. There is unfortunately no one answer for how to do that. Each man is unique and in an essentially unique situation. Each man must answer for himself as to how he must live his life well, but each man can find a way to do it. The good news is there is help for you. Men who have won the struggle are usually eager to help others win it too.
The You Tube video below was taken from the internet and is a school project of a high school student. Please watch it and listen to it and let it inspire you to a live well lived. For those of you who prefer to read the poem as well, it is printed below in its entirety.
My sincerest wishes to each of you for a life of harmony lived well.
545 X 300
by: William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
- TO him who in the love of Nature holds
- Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
- A various language; for his gayer hours
- She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
- And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
- Into his darker musings, with a mild
- And healing sympathy, that steals away
- Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
- Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
- Over thy spirit, and sad images
- Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
- And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
- Make thee to shudder and grow sick at heart;--
- Go forth, under the open sky, and list
- To Nature's teachings, while from all around--
- Earth and her waters, and the depths of air--
- Comes a still voice--Yet a few days, and thee
- The all-beholding sun shall see no more
- In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
- Where thy pale form was laid with many tears,
- Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
- Thy image. Earth, that nourish'd thee, shall claim
- Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
- And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
- Thine individual being, shalt thou go
- To mix for ever with the elements,
- To be a brother to the insensible rock,
- And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
- Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
- Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
- Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
- Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish
- Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
- With patriarchs of the infant world--with kings,
- The powerful of the earth--the wise, the good,
- Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
- All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills
- Rock-ribb'd and ancient as the sun,--the vales
- Stretching in pensive quietness between;
- The venerable woods; rivers that move
- In majesty, and the complaining brooks
- That make the meadows green; and, pour'd round all,
- Old Ocean's grey and melancholy waste,--
- Are but the solemn decorations all
- Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
- The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
- Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
- Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
- The globe are but a handful to the tribes
- That slumber in its bosom.--Take the wings
- Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
- Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
- Where rolls the Oregon and hears no sound
- Save his own dashings--yet the dead are there:
- And millions in those solitudes, since first
- The flight of years began, have laid them down
- In their last sleep--the dead reign there alone.
- So shalt thou rest: and what if thou withdraw
- In silence from the living, and no friend
- Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
- Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
- When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
- Plod on, and each one as before will chase
- His favourite phantom; yet all these shall leave
- Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
- And make their bed with thee. As the long train
- Of ages glides away, the sons of men,
- The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes
- In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
- The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man--
- Shall one by one be gathered to thy side
- By those who in their turn shall follow them.
- So live, that when thy summons comes to join
- The innumerable caravan which moves
- To that mysterious realm where each shall take
- His chamber in the silent halls of death,
- Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
- Scourged by his dungeon; but, sustain'd and soothed
- By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
- Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
- About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
|"Thanatopsis" is reprinted from Yale Book of American Verse. Ed. Thomas R. Lounsbury. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1912.|