This morning my therapist mentioned to me that she had a really hard time this past week when, on top of everything else, Leonard Cohen died. I could see that her experience with this was akin to my experience when David Bowie and Robin Williams died. That is to say, it affected her deeply despite the fact that she didn’t know Leonard Cohen personally. In the course of our brief talk about this, she spoke about Cohen almost as if he were part of her life, but then hastened to say she didn’t “really” know him. I told her that she DID really know a part of him if she knew his art.
When Bowie and Williams died, I remember several people who shared my own visceral reaction and grief. There were others who said, “Oh, I just don’t understand how the death of some celebrity could be that big a deal. You didn’t REALLY know them, stop being dramatic, etc. etc.” I feel sorry for those people. They’re missing out on an important human experience.
Good artists create art that connects you to them, and really, really good artists manage to create art that changes the lives of people who experience their art. I can honestly say that Bowie and Williams engaged with the struggles and joys of life, many of which I share, and created something to help make sense of it all. Their struggles and joys – and the product of those experiences – shaped MY life and helped ME when I was having similar experiences. They even provided opportunities for me to open to someone expressing something I’d never myself felt. This is just as true as if they had been someone involved directly in my life and had something to say in-person at a life-changing moment.
I don’t know about you, but even in “real” life, sometimes true and life-changing things come from strangers, not just people we are related to or spend extended amounts of time with. When Bowie and Williams died, I wasn’t sad simply because I wouldn’t hear another masterful piece of music or see a film that made me laugh or think. I was (and am) sad because someone who helped me make sense of life or connect to a feeling or just fucking be human… that someone is gone, and I feel a loss. I didn’t have to spend time over coffee to feel that loss. They didn’t have to be at my Thanksgiving dinners when I was growing up. Their impact isn’t any less because we never actually shook hands.
Story is how we make sense of things as humans, and art is a story. I won’t apologize for feeling deep grief when someone who is a part of my story even if that person has never laid eyes on me. I’m glad my therapist shared her grief with me, because it let me say this to her, and I could see that it was a moment of connection. And connection is important right now.