I feel compelled to write this, a strange feeling that occassionally comes and I assume no one will be interested in. And then I hope that is wrong because what I am about to say comes from kindness and the want for people not to suffer.
I apologise that there is very little gardening involved but I promise to get back to that and soon.
David Bowie is dead.
Today for the first time ever I sobbed for someone I never knew, had been in the same room as physically other than 3 times in stonkingly large arenas) or who had any idea I was alive.
And then I questioned, through those tears what right have I to cry about a death that doesn't really affect me. My life is effectively the same. Nothing has changed.
Yet it feels like everything has changed.
So I stayed at home and watched social media throughout the day as I got on with normal things but still with this weird sense that everything had changed and wondering why. Listening to tracks that made me cry again. Tracks I had forgotten. I went into town and listened to the radio, singing along at the top of my voice to Kooks, always one of many favourites. I went to a favourite cafe that was playing Ziggy Stadust on repeat, and sniffled into my tea, whilst watching others of my generation and dare I say type, behaving similarly. All in pain with an air of confusion.
And then I remembered. I remembered the 8th December 1980. I remembered driving home with my brothers and mum in the car, listening to Radio 1 to keep us quiet, and sitting outside the house as the 5.45 news came on. The news of the death of John Lennon being shot and dying. And I remember mum screaming at us to be quiet whilst she listened to the news looking lost and confused and finally sobbing. And then apologising because she was sobbing over someone she had never met and saying how silly she felt.
Then I didn't understand that. Suddenly today I do. I remember thinking how silly she was being, in my wise 11 year old brain. How could you be so upset about someone you don't know? I'm sad to say I took no notice and went upstairs and probably spent the evening complaining that the radio was constantly playing Beetles tracks. But today I understand. And feel the need to apologise.
What we are mourning is our youth. Those heady days when we believed everyone was immortal, and that our heroes would always be there.
Perhaps today we are also mourning not only the loss of a great man, but also the loss of the man who made us all realise it was ok to be different. That we didn't have to "fit in". That we could reinvent ourselves as often as we liked. That suddenly made it ok to be "creative" and made arty ok again, even in the middle of the economically driven 80's. In a school that was, really, very staid and expected a line to be walked, Bowie made it ok to not conform and so while some listened to slightly iffy 80's synth pop, some of us listened to Bowie, concentrated on the arts and read. Some of us even gardened knowing that however weird some people thought we were, it didn't matter as it was what we needed and wanted to do.
It occured to me today that the reason I first read "Seven Years in Tibet" was Bowie, that book that changed my life in that it made me interested and passionate about social justice and equality was introduced to me by him in some interview or another. And so I realised that actually, in the absence of anyone thinking laterally and suggesting horticulture as a career, I ended up at art school, painting pictures and taking photographs of the environment.
We're mourning the loss of a great man, but also a great influence. A cultural icon of the type it's actually hard to see as human. We are mourning our youth.
And then I realised I couldn't apologise to mum, because she too is gone. And even now, nearly 14 years later, that knocks everything out of my soul and leaves me struggling for breath. All the feelings that life can't possibly go on and the confusion of the space left both physically and mentally come flooding back and it feels like it's yesterday that that life changing moment happened. It's a moment from which you never recover, but have to rebuild a life from, holding tightly to loved ones and friends. A moment from which forever you are seemingly moving away from that lost person, leaving them in that moment as you try to move forwards.
Yet it focuses the mind and makes you realise what's important. It also makes you realise that whilst you focus on the physical loss of that person, their soul is embedded deeply within you, influencing your every move. And whereas we may not, most of us, have that loss of the physical today, that influence is what we are mourning because it has gone.
So being me and having worked all this out in my mind, and laughed and cried and listened and thought, I wondered what we do now. When mum died I did the oddest things, revisiting places I knew she loved and going to places, or really mainly gardens, that I know she had wanted to visit but had never managed to get to. Great Dixter, Sissinghurst, Nymans, the Dales, Hampton Court all saw me plodding around, taking them in, deep in thought and remembrance. Hard as it was I slowly began to see the beauty in things, the way things worked and were designed and why. And so the rebuilding began.
And so it makes sense for us to grieve whilst revisiting albums, listening and understanding both new and long lost lyrics with a new found appreciation. But also let's celebrate the different and rather than avoid what we don't understand, let's embrace it whatever or whoever it is. Let's focus on kindness and understanding rather than persecuting what we don't know or understand. After all isn't that the best legacy anyone could have?