People die. That’s it. The End.
When I was 12 years old, I couldn’t imagine that life beyond the age of 55 would be worth living (I’ve written about this before, but it keeps coming up.) I forget now why I chose 55. My own grandparents weren’t that much older, though I guess I considered them pretty ancient. From the age of 12, those 43 years stretching to 55 look awfully long, and full of possibilities. I remember deciding that I would commit suicide when I came to the end of those years. I guess I’m pretty lucky that I didn’t take out an irrevocable contract on my 55 year-old self, because at 53, I have zero plans not to be around to see 56 and up.
When someone of stature dies–as David Bowie and Alan Rickman both did this week–the Internet allows and even encourages a cathartic review of their lives, and plenty of room for everyone to tell a story or two about how their own lives were influenced or changed by the famous person. (This goes for not-so-famous deaths, too. Grief often needs lots of company.) Often when people die at a relatively old age, we’re surprised that they were still alive at all. I feel badly when that happens to me–I feel like I should’ve been paying attention and that I haven’t valued that artist sufficiently. Doris Day comes to mind. She is a famous, charming singer, and a fun actress–now retired from both disciplines. And as of this writing, she’s still alive and around 93 fabulous years old. I want to remember that. I want to remember that she’s spent more years fighting for animal rights and welfare than she spent acting.
Careers have highlights and low places. When someone dies, most everyone remembers the highlights. The best of people. They forget that the person was a work in progress, a work that was different from project to project, day to day. The day after that person sang/wrote that favorite song, or acted in that favorite film, they probably went on to do something less, well, remarkable. They went on living their lives, working because it meant something to be working, whether we cared about it or not. Their possibilities were still delightfully possible.
Now when I think of Alan Rickman, I can’t help but think of the possibilities that aren’t possible any more. His best work was not necessarily behind him. He had more possibilities, more opportunities to do greater films. It’s that absence that I mourn.
What’s sad is that we’ll have no new chances to be delighted, unless we dissect the past: stream Harry Potter films, or argue the relative merits of Bowie’s post-“Let’s Dance” career, as compared to “Diamond Dogs” or “Young Americans.” We can hang around being sentimental for a while, but the real tragedy is …that’s all there is.
There’s probably a lesson here about acceptance and letting go. But I want more possibilities. Always more possibilities.