David Bowie's passing has etched into stark relief not just the reality that he was the best British singer-songwriter who ever was, but that, when death rolled in with the certitude of the sea's next wave, only he decided upon its impact. His last song, "Lazarus", performed from the set of a hospital room, is like the outcome of a private dialogue with his ultimate maker, turning uncertainty into clarity, to the point of revelation.
The video is astonishing as he lies in a bed and performs with the strength of an earlier self, knowing he has but a short time to live. Yet in this instance there is no acquiescent folding into the shroud of sheets that cover him; instead his arms appear from underneath and lie firmly by his sides, with an insomniac's defiance. And death, it seems, is having to whistle to Bowie's tunes, while from inside his bandages, Bowie says, "boo!" He outstretches his arms, inviting death in, while he smiles in collusion. With the leverage of Lazarus, having already defied his adversary once before, both parties in the room reach agreement. He gets up and dances to celebrate the deal, only to choose his own exit, through a Narnia-like cupboard.
And so it seems that death, at Bowie's instigation, has had to sit up and listen and get with the times. Because without death's acknowledgement of life, it is out of a job. Society, it can be argued, has worked on the option of us passing away humanely, being able to slip away painlessly and peacefully. But Bowie demands further opportunity from death. For why should those with the same mental determination they displayed in life be deprived of it in the next one? Bowie chooses to die, actively and engaged, by matching the strength of his maker. This was no submission on death's terms, but deciding on what he wanted to feel, not what death made him feel. I guess I never knew one could die so powerfully, confronting it with force and personal demands, like tearing up a ransom note.
So, in his final incarnation on earth, David Bowie became the death whisperer, who unshackles himself from all that was, in order to communicate with a reclusive entity that no one can get through to. With the same equanimity that he killed off Ziggy Stardust, Bowie killed off David Bowie. I am convinced he is levitating above earth, working on his next incarnation.
Word has it that radical Islam is on the increase and poses a real threat against the West's unwillingness to die for an ideology. With Bowie's legacy, when alive and how he died, the world will always be ours. Will bloodletting as a religious agenda win over this? For a few virgins?
So once again thank you, David Bowie, for the joy of courage against the stranglehold of fear that death can have over us. For being the catalyst to possibilities of enjoying the experience, on our own terms in quiet or vociferous conversation. I hope I am lucky enough to choose the Bowie option, because I intend to have a real chinwag with my maker, empowered by my definite departure, unstinted by its inevitability.
A friend of mine, who was dying, walked into the church where she would be buried two weeks later and asked death to be kind to her. My aim now is to be kind to death - based on a negotiation with mutual benefits, while I promise to try to understand its maligned reputation. If Bowie did it, it can't be that bad.
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