When news broke about Carrie Fisher passing away, I found myself back in a memory not surfacing for some years. I am back on the hill near Bertrum E. Glavin Elementary school at recess time. On the hill we, two guys and myself, are the only ones playing on that hill, running around dodging imaginary enemies. We heard about this new movie, in my case, I tried to read the tie-in novel. (My aunt thought I could do it and believe me I tried.)
The new game had Kelly playing Luke Skywalker, after all, he’s blonde, Russell, with his wisecracks, as Han Solo, while I played Princess Leia. The best part about this game, I got to go around shooting Stormtroopers like the guys. I had no words but a feeling Princess Leia seemed different from even Wonder Wonder or the Bionic Woman. First off, no powers. Second, she saw her planet blow up and took all that anger and used it to fight back, to enact the best revenge against the Empire, she kept going. To a girl getting bullied a few times a day plus having her training bra snapped, it’s an epiphany. Keep going, live to fight another day, and at least try to stay out of detention. (My version of the Imperial jail cell.)
This year saw many notable passings in sports, movies/TV, and literature. Richard Adams passed quietly at the age of 96, and I remember reading Maia in Grade 9. (I read Watership Down later.) At a New York bar after a touring the Museum of Sex, I opened my phone to see Harper Lee passed away, then grabbed napkins to dab tears. To Kill A Mockingbird was required reading in Grade 10 English but I loved it and came back again to it as a teacher. The outpouring of grief leads people to scoff wondering what small lives do others lead if mourning for someone they didn’t know. Those doing the scoffing don’t realize the small dimension of their own lives.
Vivian Kane over at The Mary Sue wrote a thoughtful essay entitled Don’t Let Anyone Tell You You’re Not Allowed to Be Upset Over a Celebrity’s Death summing up why people gather for lightsaber vigils or replay the music of George Michael among other displays of grief. If 2016 had a nut graf, Kane has the perfect one:
But you can also mourn because of what they stood for. We lost a lot of people this year who represented a refusal to conform. Who made it cool to embrace our oddities.
2016 some people finish their leg of the relay. Some later, others like Anton Yelchin, too soon. Now it’s time for people to take the baton for the next leg and it’s harder than it looks. I do not agree with Amanda Palmer’s tweet about the next era producing great art. If anything non-conformity has kidnapped and a changeling has taken its place, one confusing free speech with being hateful, one wanting to make the world great again on the corpses of children in places like Aleppo. Art will have a harder time in the years to come, especially good work, the kind telling the truth even if people don’t want to hear it.
After the tears get wiped away, have your favourite drink and toast the year that passed, to those in our lives no longer around both near and far. On January 1st pick up the baton and run your leg of the relay, run even if the miles look long but adjust your pace and keep going.