In which I ponder…legacies and legends

david-bowie-0

 

I was recently at a farewell event for a colleague and friend at which a number of very moving speeches were made about the impact this person had had on a number of her staff.

I was struck, not for the first time, by how sad it is that too often we only properly celebrate people when they leave – life, work, country. And there were obvious parallels with my recent experiences…

If only we were as careful to ensure that the people around us really understood their value on a daily basis.

Then after an exceptionally hot Sydney day, my daughter and I were in the car heading to the beach for a walk and a refreshing swim when I interrupted our conversation to turn the radio up and hear the first news reports about the death of David Bowie.

I was brought up in a household in which classical music ruled – with an exception made for The Beatles and Bread*.

This meant that my discovery of David Bowie in my late teens was entirely my own, particularly the albums that would have been made when I was a small child. I think I was first intrigued by some of the scandal surrounding his music videos, which were banned from Top of the Pops as they were too explicit. I still haven’t see the video for China Girl – although I might google it when I’ve finished this – largely because we did not have a television. However, this led to an interest in his older stuff, and his music has continued to be high on my play list throughout my life. Young Americans is in my top 5 tracks of all time.

In September I went down to Melbourne for a girls weekend with a friend and to see the Bowie exhibition that had started out at the V&A and then travelled the world. At the exhibit I was fascinated to see the extent to which he had been influenced by other musicians, composers, writers, artists, designers, fashion and the theatre – and the extent to which he had in turn impacted on them himself over his long career. The design of the exhibit made it possible to see these links in a very tangible way.**

The place was packed – booked tickets only and a sell out.

So famous people these days are in the rather unique situation of knowing just how highly they are regarded without having to die first – although even David Bowie might still have been surprised by the extent to which his passing is currently occupying my Facebook feed. The downside of this I suppose is that they also have access to a level of animosity that before the advent of social media I’m sure was not experienced by the famous nor the infamous, if not only because it would have been too labour intensive. But these days, it must be very easy to spew your vitriol anonymously into the Twittersphere – and many people do***

However, all this makes me wonder. Am I doing enough to ensure that the people who matter to me really know? I tell my children frequently – sometimes many times a day – that I love them. But there are so many people who are important in my life. Do they know?

There might be the start of a New Year commitment there…so if I start making you feel awkward by waxing lyrical about how great you are, you’ll know why.

*I actually really like The Beatles. Obviously. I feel a bit awkward about revealing that I have a soft spot for Bread too, as this is not so obvious. Don’t judge. We all have dodgy musical pasts. Don’t we?

**It struck me while I was there that although the focus in our household on classical music was wonderful and was the basis of my love for music, it may have been part of me missing out on some really interesting social and cultural developments – and was probably compounded by not having a television. I think my parents automatically devalued the work of people like David Bowie – just assuming that they had little to offer. But the exhibition reminded me of some of the best lectures from my English degree, which helped us to see the direct links between literature, art, music, politics and so many other parts of culture. If it’s still touring you should go and see it. Also David Bowie is (was) tiny. Like Kylie Minogue sort of size. Most of his costumes I could only fit one leg in. Seriously.

*** check out famous people reading mean tweets on YouTube. Hilarious. People are vile…

Stop all the clocks…

When I was seven years old, my best friend was a little girl called Jodie. She was more adventurous, outspoken and courageous than me, and I loved her for it. We rode our bikes together across the Lincolnshire countryside – so far from home that later, when we both had children of our own, we were appalled – had sleepovers in the garden, and wrote our names and the date on the wall of a cottage in her dad’s timber yard.*

In 2002, Jodie was diagnosed with breast cancer, but treatment put her into remission, so she and her husband Jim and their two small boys forged forwards in life, embarking on the renovation of a beautiful but virtually uninhabitable Grade II listed property. The return of her cancer and a terminal diagnosis was a devastating blow to everyone who loved her but especially to her young family. Jodie had always been stubborn and tenacious, and she used the same bloody minded approach that had ensured her business success to confront her illness. We used to joke that she was too stubborn to die, but really she was just determined to see both her children start school.

Jodie died in 2005 when her boys were 5 and 6 years old. She had fought a brave, hard fight but in the end the big C got the better of her.

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So it was with devastating and heartbreaking irony that today we laid her eldest child to rest, having taken his own life. A beautiful, intelligent boy of just 16 years, much loved, with so much to offer the world.

There are some things for which nothing can be said. There are no words of comfort available, nothing which will make it better, nothing which will make it go away. There are some things which can only be borne, not gotten over.

At Jodie’s funeral we had known what was coming. Jodie had asked me to deliver the eulogy, and my writings had been vetted in advance. She had organized the ceremony with Jim. But it was still hard. It was still heartbreaking. In the church today there was little that I recognized, and I can only think that I got through that day in a blur.

But there is no possible preparation for what we had to do today.

His dad said that George had not been able to see the point of life. But if he had asked me I would have told him that the point was in the hundreds of people in the church today, at his grave, and at his wake. It was in the gatherings of the last two weeks, as his family supported one another to get through all the arrangements necessary after the (always untimely) death of a child. It was in his close group of school friends, as they let off balloons in his memory and put together slideshows of photographs of his life. It was in the eulogies bravely delivered by his devoted father and by his best friend.

Because the point of this life is quite simply love.

Hold your children close tonight – and every night.

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*it’s still there