George Michael is the last straw.
The list of fallen heroes in 2016 has become too long. David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, Gene Wilder, Gary Shandling, Leonard Cohen. Some, like exceptional author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, died at an age appropriate time. Wiesel was 87. The sting of his death seems lessened by the span of his life.
But losing so many of our bright luminaries who are only in their 50’s ad 60’s seems…well, wrong. They’re too young to go. For those of Generation X, it’s a shocking wake up call to see our high school heroes die. These are the guys that that we rocked out to – Molly Ringwald and Kevin Bacon style – at our high school dances. For many of us, death is circling coming close for the first time, wagging a finger in admonishment at the comforting thought that his reaping was a few decades away. Not so. He’s at the door.
With the sick and dying sequestered away in hospitals, I often can live in a benign denial of my own mortality. But this year is different. The parade of celebrity deaths is a wake up call. It cannot be avoided. Time’s ominous and relentless hand is visible, clearing a path. The veil of happy immortality that I like to wear over my eyes is thinning, weakening.
Death extends a hand in invitation. Come closer, he says. Why not? I’m always here.
Death’s presence is clarifying. Like a sudden wind, he blows away everything petty and irrelevant. The small stuff loses its grasp and flakes off. The squabbles, the grievances, and our eternal to do lists become paper in the wind. When we let death come close, he whispers his riddle in our ear: “What makes your life worthwhile?” He strips us to the bones of our humanity. We sit naked in the present moment, suddenly awake, attuned to our aliveness. In the clarity of death’s presence, we reconnect to the core values that give our souls satisfaction. We see our loved ones with fresh eyes, feel our bodies in the present moment. We feel gratitude and awe at our own heartbeat. We marvel at the mystery of what it is to be alive.
In the winter darkness before the near year, sit close to death. Let him whisper his riddle in your ear. Allow his proximity to shake you out of your habitual sleepiness and point the way to your connection to your own precious and wild aliveness. Dare. Love. Laugh loudly. Sing off-key. Kindle your light in the dark.
Hold hands with death, and then go boldly dance with life.