A recent post describes my relatively reasonable fear of death (“reasonable” being the key word here; I have lots of other far less reasonable fears). What I didn’t really get into was my obsession with it. For the last year and half, from the second I saw news of David Bowie’s death to hearing of Gregg Allman’s passing just a few days ago, I have been compulsively worried that musicians I like are going to suddenly drop dead. (I really should’ve known 2016 was going to suck in terms of pop culture passings when New Year’s Day that year brought the news that Natalie Cole had died the night before. That’s never a good way to start off a year.) I check the news multiple times a day, just in case. I imagine how I might feel if [insert name of iconic musician here] passed. I wonder idly about which songs I should use for my obituary post, and how many posts commemorating that person there ought to be; depending on their fame, influence, and place in my heart it could be a lot. Right now, I’m just a tiny bit worried that my even musing about this topic will bring some kind of karmic retribution down on whichever poor bastard happens to be next on the Universe’s hit list.
I am aware that this is not entirely healthy.
I wish I could be as sanguine about death as this song. I wish I could be accepting of it as the Buddha says. It’s natural and inevitable; we are transitory beings, blah, blah, blah. “Seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun, or the rain. We can be like they are.” Blah, blah, blah. It might be a natural transition, but it’s still a pretty fucking scary one. The final great unknown. I hate not knowing things. I also hate not having control over things, and death is one of the many, many things entirely outside my control.
Of course, I have a lot of recent personal experience with death. It’s been four years since Daddy shuffled off the mortal coil. Mom’s illness has once again raised the specter in my house. My cousin the roadie recently got just a little bit too close to death when the Manchester Arena was bombed right after the Ariana Grande concert (he was on the crew, who were all safe). Other family members have passed recently. Cats have passed recently. I know I’m getting older and so is everyone I love; I just wish I wasn’t so anxious about it all. My worried little hamster wheel of a brain has been working overtime on this one.
One death that hit me unexpectedly hard was the recent passing of Robert M. Pirsig. Who the hell was that, you ask? Just the man who wrote the Book That Changed My Life, aka Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Sure, I hadn’t known he was even still alive, which is one of the things that made his death so unexpected. But as I read the obituary in the paper, I felt gutted. For a few minutes, I felt like I did when my dad passed. It was that painful. I celebrated his life by rereading Zen again, which made me feel a little better.
I think maybe I’d feel even a little bit better if I knew that there was some sort of personification of death who came to collect you when it was time. Not Robert Redford in that episode of The Twilight Zone (“Nothing in the Dark”; you can find it on YouTube). I’d much prefer the Death from Terry Pratchett’s books. He’s very matter of fact, but still quite compassionate. Plus, he has a sense of humor and rides a horse named Binky. What’s not to love?
There’s really nothing I can do but live with it, no pun intended. When Pirsig passed, I told myself I had to sit with that grief for a few minutes and I did. I know when the next person or pet I love moves on, I’ll cry and sit with that grief, too. I have to. As John Donne said, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Nobody said the bell couldn’t be a cowbell.