Don’t make me step to the music of the same old drum

My older brother and me, circa 1948.

My older brother and me, circa 1948.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away” (Thoreau, Henry David, Walden Pond).

Anyone who does not have $320,000 socked away for medical expenses in her retirement (I do not mean a retirement fund in that amount—that amount on top of her retirement funds) can probably count on a life of poverty and dependency on programs that the Tea Party and John Boehner are determined to eliminate from the government. A representative of the retirement system at Southern Methodist University gave me that figure.

I don’t have that much socked away anywhere, total.

I have at least two pre-existing medical conditions that will make finding health care difficult under the best of circumstances when I retire. I have Bipolar II disorder, and I am Temporal Lobe Epileptic. But, you say, those are mental (or at least neurological) disorders, not preexisting medical conditions.

Right! You are diabetic, but that is not a preexisting medical condition; it’s a disorder of the endocrine system.

This is not a rant against understanding medical care as an “entitlement.” This is, rather, a disconsolate and apprehensive look at the reality into which I am staring at the moment, a reality into which too many people are inexorably drawn because they do not have the requisite retirement resources.

My parents, at ages about 90, moved to assisted living in the retirement complex where they lived in Fresno, CA.  After my mother died, my father moved to a facility in Oakland operated by the same church-related corporation.

Whether I simply never looked for and never noticed them or they were not there, I was unaware that any gay men of retirement age lived in either facility. There may well be gay men at other such facilities, but the word “Baptist” in the names of these facilities might have been a warning to gay men.
The hard (perhaps cruel) fact is that with all of our nation’s advances in acceptance of and making provisions for gay couples, both men and women, it is still likely that any gay person who needs care in later life will have difficulty finding the assistance she needs without a concomitant helping of discrimination and prejudice. Anyone who is interested in civil rights—or simple human decency—needs to see the film Gen Silent.  (Please see it!)

I began this writing under the influence of a night with more awake time than I usually have; I was awake thinking about my new (as of yesterday) certainty of the date for my retirement (the last day of the spring semester , 2014—a year sooner than I had hoped).

Unlike many professional people my age (gay or straight) with PhD’s and thirty years’ work in their profession, I do not have a suitable retirement fund. That’s my own doing. I made my choices.

I have always been puzzled by the organization and discipline of my parents’ lives—even when my mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They were both able to maintain a comfortable and dignified life until the end.

Without making excuses for my decisions and my actions, I simply report (again) that I have suffered from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and severe clinical depression all my life. I have also struggled with addiction.

I have, perhaps, heard a different drummer most of my life. Which is not to say I am unique. We all step to the beat of different drummers. It seems to me that the “safety net” we have constructed in the past was in some ways an attempt to make it possible for people, even in hard times, even when they make wrong choices, even when they are too old to be “productive” to walk to the beat of their different drummers.

Being just a bit out of the ordinary (perhaps), I can attest to the importance of looking forward to hearing my drummer—even in retirement. We owe it to ourselves to give everyone in our society the ability to walk to her own drummer. Many people are able to discipline themselves to prepare for comfort in old age. Many are not. And vastly more have no opportunity to do so.

Ending up in a facility where one is “kept” rather than cared for or simply not having enough resources to flourish while we walk to our different drummers is inhumane—no, it is inhuman. Being gay, or poor, or sick, or . . . would not, in a truly human society, preclude being part of a cacophony of drummers.

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