Brendan Hartmann. Photo by Callen Harty.

Lately, even before this last weekend, mortality has been on my mind. My partner, Brian, has been talking about the fact that we’re getting older and how he worries about me because of already surviving a heart attack a decade ago. And I can’t imagine life without him in it, either.

In the last several weeks or so, I had seen a couple friends pass away, another go into hospice, and another go into the hospital and he is not expected to make it out. In addition, I’ve seen other friends lose mothers and fathers, grandmothers, lovers, and friends in just a few weeks. Yesterday, we woke up to news that a 29-year old friend, Brendan Hartmann, had passed away on Friday. And it reminded me that mortality isn’t reserved for the old.

It can be easy to forget that every day is a gift. Every day awakens new opportunities. And every day, most of us waste it by not living life to its fullest, by not connecting with those we love, and by taking so many things for granted.

I was surrounded by death when I was younger. I do not remember any of my grandparents, my father, and my oldest brother as they were all gone before I could form any memories. In addition, I could have died numerous times in my life, including a near-death experience when I was two years old and the 100% blockage in my left coronary just over a decade ago.

Because of this, I have always understood how precious life is. I’ve done my best to live it well. But I have also failed. I have let friendships fade away. I’ve laid in bed depressed when I could be out doing something. I’ve forgotten to appreciate.

Brian and I have been making an effort lately to try to reconnect with people, to make sure those we like and love know we like and love them, to spend quality time with each other, and to make our days count. He’s ten years younger than me, but I’m 62 now. I understand I could have another heart attack tomorrow, or get into a fatal car wreck, or move into the next realm of existence in any of the myriad ways that is possible. I also understand I could live as long as my mother, which would mean a third of my life is still ahead of me. Brian could go before me. The point is, we can’t know, so we have to treasure the days because of that and honor the gift of living.

I am thankful that at least within the last couple months I had reached out to Brendan to encourage him. He had been going through hell in St. Louis, getting and losing jobs, getting punched by someone trying to rob him and then getting harassed by the police, hitting what he called rock bottom for a year, living in a place too rough for such a sweet and gentle soul. But most of the time, despite whatever hardships he was having, his posts were about believing in the kindness of strangers and the innate goodness of people.

I don’t know how Brendan died, and I don’t need to know. What I know is that he was too young. He was a talented young man with an inquisitive and wonderful mind. He cared deeply for people, even those he didn’t know. He had potential. Despite his troubles, despite whatever it was that took him from us, he deserved to live through his rough period and come out stronger on the other side. So many people do. Some do not. I wish that he had succeeded. I wish that he had found whatever help he needed. But we can’t change what is. We can only learn from it and move forward.

Tonight, my promise is to honor the gift of life by recommitting fully to it and to those I love. This is how I can honor Brendan and the others who have recently left my circle and this plane. The greatest gift we can give to others is to take the time to listen to them, be with them, and love them. I will do my best.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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6 Responses to Mortality

  1. Jeff says:

    Who’s writing about Brendan ? Who is this? I’ve been looking for him for almost a year now.

  2. debikayo says:

    Oh, this made me tear up- it has been a difficult year for me too. To say the least. I don’t see you often, but I think of you as a dear friend. You are loved. ❤

  3. Liz says:

    I have always felt close to you and Brian, for whatever reason. This post reminds me that I think of people, friends in the present and the past, often but am not very good at keeping in touch. Whoever reads this, and knows me, I have probably been thinking about you lately. I have suffered through hard times, during which many of you were in my life, and came out it stronger and happier and even more thankful for the gift of life. I’m so sorry to hear of Brendan’s passing. He is someone I hoped to know in the future when we both were more comfortable with ourselves and would fine it easier to connect. May his soul be at peace. I didn’t know of his recent hardships. I wish I could have, would have reached out to him to tell him, “It gets better.” My dear Facebook friends, my Broom Street friends, my old and my new friends, I love you and am glad I am alive to tell you so.

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