I woke this morning to the news and didn’t want to believe it, wanted to crawl back into bed and pull the sheets over my head so that I could deny that it was true. A legend had died. An artist who transcended medium and genre to create works that stirred, provoked and defined us was no longer with us. David Bowie had passed.
This, however, is not a column about David Bowie. The internet has been filled with countless memories of and tributes to the greatness of David Bowie. I could write one of my own, but in full disclosure, my concern would be that it would be lost in the sea of tears that have been rightfully shed about his passing. I could tell you why he was brilliant and gifted, but you already know that. I could share stories of how Bowie’s music changed my life, but you have your own as well. I’ll leave that territory to those who knew Bowie personally or followed his career trajectory even more assiduously that I did.
What started this line of thinking for a column was the comment by a friend on Facebook that Bowie’s death signaled the beginning of such losses as our generation reached the age where the legends we so appreciated moved into their final stages of life. “Is it already that time in life,” she asked, “when the artists who helped form us start to leave us?” Sadly, it is. It always is. Yes, this will accelerate and become far too commonplace, but the reality is that from the moment we are born, the world around us, including those who have the greatest impact on our lives, is dying. Loss is an inherent part of the life experience. Jim Morrison, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gilda Radner, Kurt Cobain, and now David Bowie have all left us, and more are sure to follow. Yes, life is impermanent, but therein is where it’s beauty lies.
Let’s face it: death sucks. Not so much for the departed, or at least so we think, but for the ones who remain and feel the resounding sting of losing what was once theirs (or so we are deluded into believing). We all know that everything must die, but that doesn’t make it any easier. As long as we love, so shall there be grief, for it is in our attachment to the people and things that touch our soul that grief lies.
But that’s where the illusion of our suffering springs from, for nothing in this world is really ours in the first place. You came into this world with nothing, and that’s exactly what you leave with. Everything you believe you possess in the meantime is your own personal folly, and it is precisely at the moment that you start actually buying that shit that the universe comes along and smacks you upside the head by taking it all away as if to remind you it wasn’t yours to begin with.
As consolation to those grieving over the loss of David Bowie’s remarkable talent and artistry, someone on Twitter wrote, “Remember the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and you managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.” Even if we scale back the time frame to thousands of years of human civilization, you should count yourself pretty damn lucky to have coexisted with David Bowie at all, even if the overlap was not entirely matching. Call it the glass half empty, glass half full dilemma, but we have a choice at such moments: grieve the moments we will no longer have or celebrate the moments we were fortunate to experience.
Think, after all, of the artistic geniuses your lifetime did not coincide with. Beethoven, Homer, Janis Joplin. All were dead before I got here. If those folks were still around, would there be enough artistic spotlight so that emerging artists like David Bowie could shine as well? Probably not. Their time had to come to an end so that another’s might begin. One thing must die in order for something else to be born. Life and death are not really as opposed as we might think. Rather, they are just different sides of the same coin.
And think for a moment of all the talented brilliance we will miss by not living long enough. Shit, even Justin Beiber might someday sing a song I would enjoy, but I’m not sure I actually want to live that long. Just as Elvis had to make way for David Bowie, so David Bowie himself knew that his passing would pave the way for the artists he wished he could have the chance to experience. So do not mourn the loss of David Bowie; celebrate it. His death provides the fertile soil from which another poignant artist will grow and fill the world with their brilliance. As Bowie himself once suggested, “The truth is of course that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.”
And therein lies the essence of life. It is a constantly evolving interplay of birth and death, so sit back, pop open a beer, and revel in the spectacle unfolding before you. The stars look very different today. Let them.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 words or less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com