I know how the brain works; physically…I’ve used my knowledge to minimize the impact of the natural forgetfulness that seems to come to all with age. I know how to set related neurons firing till they cascade right into the one that holds the little piece of information i seek—be it a person’s name, title of a book or movie, or the year something happened. But I am still sometimes surprised by the path it takes to heavy ponderings. This morning that path started with overnight death of Muhammad Ali. Then thinking about his friendship with Malcolm X, how both were intelligent men capable of adjusting their opinions when they received new information, a trait I greatly admire. In later life, Ali regretted turning his back on Malcolm X when Malcolm returned from his Hajj with a new view of Islam and his own views on God and faith broadened.
Of course there are tribute posts all over social media alongside the regular ones. For some reason an acquaintance posted Janis Joplin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’, to which I could only comment it was appropriate for my mood because every icon of my youth who dies takes a piece of my heart. We certainly lost enough of them way too early as well. There was a year between 9/18/70 and 7/3/71 when 3 died, theaters were draped in mourning colors for months on end. The first two, Hendrix and Joplin died just weeks apart in fall of 1970. The 60s it had been more about the political and intellectual losses: The Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X.
In musing on all this it has finally sunk in that the pain of loss is no less when the loved one or icon reaches the status of ‘elder’. Our musings about what those who died young may have done, what art or wisdom they may have given us if they had not died young are all speculation, sad to be sure, but projections, lost hopes and dreams. But if we are going do that, make a big deal of the potential lost to the world, should we not rejoice when one stays with us to a more ‘appropriate’ age? Should we not celebrate all the joy and enlightenment they brought us?
I have no snappy finish, no soulful or poignant conclusion because I’m still pondering it all. Of course death is a part of life and the older we get the more tangible an ‘end’ it becomes, the larger it looms. We even begin to realize that for some of us death is comforting, an end to suffering. But still we mourn because we will miss the piece of our hearts they took with them.