I never met David Bowie. I saw him perform live only once, on a big stage in a large venue. It wasn’t an intimate gig. I didn’t get backstage afterwards. We didn’t know each other. To me, he was only ever an idea/l.
But I’m sitting here the day after he died and I keep crying. My chest hurts sometimes, like someone’s pressing down on it. And for a while, I don’t really know why his death’s triggering such pain.
Then when I get quiet and sit still, I realise that I’m grieving for myself. Although he was the same age as my parents, his influence ran all through my childhood and teenage years. I remember watching Space Oddity when Molly Meldrum played it for the first time on Countdown and wondering who this magnificent creature was, who’d put magic into a music video. So when I heard he’d died it felt like my youth died with him. At 45 years old and with David Bowie dead, I can no longer pretend I’m still a kid.
And then, as usual, there’s a deeper layer. As I begin to understand the complexity of his final album and start to get a sense of the gift he’s left us with, I’m awestruck. This man’s entire life was a work of art. He made every moment a creative endeavour.
Even at the end, when he knew he was dying, he kept it a secret and used his last 18 months to make things for us. Spooky, kooky, beautiful things. And then he released them into the world almost in the moment of his passing, so we’d have him right here with us while we grieve.
For me, David Bowie’s modelled what it looks like to get clear, early in your life, on your gifts and then to fearlessly, creatively and relentlessly use them, right to the end. He’s showed us what’s possible to make of a life.
And I’m feeling sad today because for the first 40+ years, my life was rarely like that.
I want to be clear: I couldn’t have lived his life. I wasn’t born with his unique collection of gifts. But I have my own. And I haven’t used them as well as I possibly could’ve.
Not until I listened to/watched his final album, in the context of his death, did I realise just how far removed so much of my life’s been from a personal work of art. For so long, I leaned away from my gifts instead of towards them. And even now, years after I made a personal commitment to live courageously, I’m still not being as brave as he was.
So today, I’m grieving for the opportunities I’ve lost. For the years I can’t get back. For the times I held back because I was scared. For all the times I let the fear win.
But there’s good news: I’m still here. I get to start again today. I can choose to live differently. And I get to live with his life’s work laid out before me, to remind me of the day I decided to be as brave as David Bowie.
These phrases helped me today. Perhaps they’ll be useful for you. Close your eyes, feel your feet on the floor and take a deep breath down into your belly. Focus on your heart and repeat each phrase out loud.
I’m so sorry you’re sad.
I’m so sorry he died too soon.
I’m so sorry his death was a shock.
I’m so sorry you weren’t prepared for him to die.
I’m so sorry you weren’t prepared for the gifts he gave you.
I’m so sorry you weren’t prepared for what he showed you.
I’m so sorry his death showed you what’s missing from your life.
I’m so sorry you were scared to use your unique gifts.
I’m so sorry you didn’t live your life as a work of art.
I’m so sorry you can’t have those years back.
I’m so sorry you can’t make art with the life you have left.
I’m so sorry you can’t start your life again today.
I’m so sorry you’re not as brave as David Bowie.