So, Prince died. And I’ve been crying on and off since yesterday. I’m not sure if it’s that I’m sad that he’s gone, or that I was too sick to go to Brooklyn last night for Spike Lee’s block party. All these people are dying. Famous people I never met, folks whose work meant a lot to me, inspired and touched me in personal ways that are hard to describe. And then there are the deaths of people in my life – family members, friends, whose silence still rings loud in my ears and in my heart.
Photo credit – Michael Ochs Archives
These endings, these reconfigurations, they are inevitable, I suppose, and a normal part of life. But as I grow older, they seem to increase in frequency, and their resonance with my own sense of impermanence, the reality of my own eventual demise, becomes more acute. I feel vulnerable and more alone.
I remember back in the days when scanning through the calendar of events in the Village Voice made me feel small and insignificant. There was always so much going on, so many scenes that I was not a part of, so many shows I would miss, performers I would not experience firsthand. Rather than feel enticed to choose something fun to do, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, the out of reach amount of money required to do all the things that called to me. I often got paralyzed into doing nothing.
These days, I scan my Facebook and Instagram pages. I see all the pithy descriptions of parties and shows and other events, I get the invitations, I scan the guest lists, I see the pictures afterwards. I am connected to all these people, yet not part of the group selfies, not part of the behind the scenes moments, the preparatory meetings, the after-parties. And yet, I am fooled into thinking I am part of all these things. I see the pictures, I read the remarks, I comment and like and share. But I am home, alone.
When I do go out, I have a great time. I meet old friends, new comrades, new besties, crushes, potential collaborators, business partners. I speak my mind, I tell jokes, I flirt and sparkle, I flash my teeth, I share drinks and other things. I am part of my world, wherever I go. I am not afraid.
But the people keep dying. I keep getting older. The world keeps shifting, as loved ones leave us, change the geometry of the landscape, the energy, the dynamic. I knew who I was, and then Maya Angelou died. Michael Jackson died. Amy Winehouse died. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams. They died. Why then? Why them? My parents. Gone. My husband. Gone. Friends have lost children. Unthinkable. Bowie, Prince, gone. These losses, they seem arbitrary, random. They are unexpected. It’s hard to imagine a world without them.
Only my husband, who took over twenty years to slowly slip away from me into the grips of his chronic illness – only he took his time. And that deconstructed widowhood, it took me over slowly, taught me to feel every molecule of loss, taught me to understand the gradual letting go of our partnership, our plans, wishes and dreams, taught me to look to myself for strength when everything pointed in the direction of abandonment.
There are things we may not want to admit to ourselves, such as the fact that we will all be dead someday. When one of our luminaries crosses over, and the world changes, I want to hold onto something that feels more permanent, more robust and hearty than my own fragile sense of myself. I want hugs, kisses, maybe adoration, maybe sex, the grinding of body against body a reminder of my physical existence, my presence here on earth right now.
I’ll bet it would have been great to be crushed up against a sea of strangers in Brooklyn or Minneapolis or Harlem last night. I’ll bet it would have been great to cry out loud into the night with the soundtrack of a genius playing in the background. I’ll bet it would have been great to get high on collective grief and inspiration. Instead, I cried myself to sleep, grateful for the drowsy escape from sore throat, sinus congestion and a deep cough.
I remember now that every great artist knows a profound sadness and uses it to fuel his or her art. I remember, as any good Buddhist will tell you, that suffering breeds compassion. I remember, as my husband used to say, that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And I remember that the grief I feel over anyone’s loss is a tribute to the love we shared, whether in person, or through the magic that was their art, their music, their words.
So I guess things are as they should be…