When I was 19 years old, I wandered into a support group called Friends In Deed. Since most people there were dealing with physical conditions far more lethal than my own, I was afraid that by going there I would somehow be disrespecting the other group members. Instead, I was welcomed with open arms by an entire community, led that night by a man named Robert Levithan.
Robert was one of an elite handful of group leaders, a gifted and compassionate psychologist who always knew how to delve right into the crux of an issue. He was also an inspiring and prolific writer, and regularly wrote columns for Oprah Winfrey and The Huffington Post, as well as his own popular book “The New 60.” Robert was a passionately hopeful and fierce fighter, for LGBT rights, for HIV/AIDS advocacy, and for his own health. You see, 20+ years ago, Robert was told he only had a few months to live with HIV – a fact he often relayed in order to tell people like me that no matter how dire and hopeless life seems, you never truly know what’s going to happen next. No matter what the doctors say, or the statistics, or the medical journals, or even all the terrible voices in your head telling you it’s over – you just don’t know.
Robert fought more battles than I can count, and he did so with the most peaceful and warm smile you could imagine. I lead support groups myself now, and I will always, always remember Robert when I do so, to pay forward all of the peace, passion, love, and determination that he sent my way.
In February, in response to his unexpected metastatic cancer diagnosis, Robert wrote an article called “This is Not My Last Battle.” In retrospect, this is terribly sad. And yet not. In adopting this attitude, in living this attitude, Robert once again refused to let his life be dictated by a diagnosis. He went to Brazil, he rode horses on the beach, he wrote articles, and stayed in control of his own life for as long as he could.
“Some people fear death,” Robert wrote. “Some people fear suffering. I only fear fear.”