Of Life, Loss, Princess Leia, and the Crushing Weight of 2016

Originally posted December 27, 2016, for the Portland Mercury

Carrie Fisher died the morning of December 27. She had suffered cardiac arrest four days earlier on a plane taking her back to Los Angeles for the holidays. She was an advocate for women and for mental health issues. She was an acclaimed writer and she was a beloved actress. She was Princess Leia. She was a brutally honest, courageous, and hilarious inspiration for hundreds of millions of people in a multitude of ways over the course of her 60 years on this Earth.

People immediately took to their social media accounts, and the cries against the cruelty of 2016 rang out once again, fresh and raw as they’ve been all year long. Some people are referring to this abnormal, alarming increase in celebrity death the “Baby Bust,” a logical, slow-motion curtain call for the Boomers, a generation that changed— is still changing—the world.

I understand the anger at the year, and I get why people would choose to shunt all their frustration and disappointment onto the date, as if the calendar really gave a shit who left on its watch, or why. But it’s a thing I’ve been thinking about off and on this afternoon, this “Baby Bust” and how it just would not stop coming for our hearts in 2016.

I thought about the sheer number of people born during and just after World War II, the rise of our media machine into something altogether different after that, the way that media machine put so many people into our living rooms, the way we latched onto these movie stars, musicians, and athletes—the way they became the background noise of our childhoods and the fabric of the security blankets we’d tuck under our chins when life started kicking our ass and we needed to go lay down for a minute to recuperate.

Now they’re all leaving, and it’s not just the reminder of mortality that stings so much, because I think most of us know that all things end eventually, that it’s more about what you do with that time, and how you spend it, and who you spend it with. On some level we know it’s more about the how of our life than the what.

But David Bowie goes, and Prince goes, and Carrie Fisher goes, and Gene Wilder goes, and Muhammad Ali goes, all these stars going out one after another, and you can’t stop any of it, and you can’t help but think about your star, and the all the other stars in your orbit.

They’re all gonna go. Your mom, your dad, your sisters & brothers, your friends, your family. All of ’em are gonna go, and it’s coming faster than any of us wants, and it’s going to hurt goddammit, it’s gonna hurt so fucking bad—if these people we’ve never even met are going to affect us this much what’s it gonna be like when the people we really know wink out of our sky?

They’re all gonna go, and despite all our own bullshit and our stupid baggage, the struggles and the frustrations just trying to maintain in the face of our problems—we owe it to them to take their best parts, incorporate them into ourselves as best we can, and take that into the future, for everyone’s sake. We owe it to them. We owe it to us.

That’s one hell of a responsibility. That weight is not easy to carry. And this year just will not stop adding to it, reminding us of the impermanent beauty and genius leaving us every day, and it will never let up as we keep moving forward. Who wants to waste all that inspiration? Who wouldn’t want to be that inspiration for someone else if they could?

This is what life is, I guess. The absorption and transformation of love, into loss, and back again into more love.

That work is rewarding as hell, but it never gets easier. You get old, your heroes go, and someday you will go too. You just hope that when it’s your turn for transformation, you leave behind as much as all these amazing people left you.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about this afternoon. This is the cursed gift that 2016 won’t stop setting on our doorstep, a challenge to keep the skies filled and shining down on a future that deserves to have it better than we did. We were lucky to be around at the same time Carrie Fisher was, and we’ll be lucky to have a tenth of her effect on the people in our orbit. We owe it to her, and to ourselves, to try as hard as we can.

Published in: on 05/30/2017 at 8:31 pm  Comments Off on Of Life, Loss, Princess Leia, and the Crushing Weight of 2016  
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