Remembering Those We've Never Known

Prince died today, and it rained in Minneapolis. Maybe I'm outing myself as a transplant, but I didn't feel sad--not in the way my fellow Minnesotans seemed to, anyway. I liked his music, sure, and I understood his cultural significance.  He empowered so many to embrace their own sexuality, quirks, and beauty. So I understand why many feel as though they've lost someone dear to them.

And yet... I can't bring myself to feel anything but vaguely glum. "Oh, that's too bad," I said in the wake of his passing. I went about my day.

There's such magical thinking surrounding the creation of art--this idea that the artist gives himself to his work, and through his art, he allows the viewer to know him intimately. There's truth to that, sure. But I think that so much of the art we love only allows us to better understand ourselves--not the creator. 

There's this guy I know from college. Every time a celebrity dies, he posts a tribute on Facebook about how that artist changed his life in some way--buoyed his spirits as an awkward teen, inspired him to pursue a career in the arts, helped him reconcile the parts of himself he didn't like. I once cynically thought that he was exaggerating these artists' impacts on his life, but now I think that maybe his grief is genuine. Maybe with every dying stranger, he practices dying himself. Maybe he's really grieving his understanding of the world and his place in it.

I cried when my high school classmate succumbed to cancer. I cried when my friend's sorority sister plunged into the Mississippi River. I cried when my favorite blogger's twin sister's husband passed away. I knew these people no more or less intimately than I know Prince or David Bowie or Alan Rickman, but I could so easily slip myself into their shoes and project my hopes and anxieties onto their silhouettes as I imagined their final days and hours.

Maybe all of these passing strangers reflect something broader about each of us: that we hope for meaning, for long lives, to be loved--by millions or just a few. Maybe death--with a lowercase d, the deaths that happen all around us, constantly, and not the ones that change the course of our lives--highlight how much we hope to live and how tightly we must hold onto the people and the ideas we love before they pass like sand through our open fingers.

And maybe the chintzy-ness of a Facebook update or a Purple Rain Snapchat filter or an all-night dance party is the only way to express the longing to know ourselves and this world a little more fully before we go.

I don't feel broken up about Prince. But the rain today did feel right.