Because we are alive

Facebook reminds me every year that this is what I wrote toward the end of 2016. It’s always a nice reminder because it is always true, in this year — when we lost John Madden, Desmond Tutu, Phil Spector, Hank Aaron, Christopher Plummer, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Nesmith, Lloyd Price, Jim Steinman, Charles Grodin, Ned Beatty, Richard Donner, Nanci Griffith, Randy Scruggs, Don Everly, Ed Asner, Charlie Watts, Anne Rice, Dean Stockwell, and many others — as much as any other.

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Quite a few famous people have died in 2016. Quite a few famous people die every year; one of the regular features of the Academy Awards is a review of all the great actors and filmmakers who have passed in the previous year, and it’s always overwhelming how long the list is.

Somehow people seem to be taking it harder this year. The sad and sudden deaths of George Michael and Carrie Fisher in recent days provoked an outpouring of grief not only for those two fine talents but for all of the people who passed this year – David Bowie, Prince, George Martin, Muhammed Ali, Leonard Cohen …

It’s sad. It’s always sad. When people die “before their time,” it seems especially sad, as in the cases of Michael, 53, and Fisher, 60.

In the case of famous, brilliant performers, however, there is some solace: Their work will live, if not forever, then for a very long time.

That’s the one comfort we have thanks to the technologies of recording and publishing. The words, the images, the performances survive.

And so I am sad about George Michael and Carrie Fisher dying before we were ready to say goodbye. But then I pop When Harry Met Sally or The Empire Strikes Back into the DVD player, or call up “Faith” (or the brilliant TV series Eli Stone) on the web, and there they are.

Death reminds us to live life. The death of my hero Ray Bradbury in 2012 made me sad, and then I got up and wrote a novel.

The other day I was browsing a book called The Bradbury Chronicles, which was published in 1991 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the master’s first published short story with a parcel of short stories by great writers who were inspired by Bradbury. He also contributed a story (“The Troll”) and an essay (“Fifty Years, Fifty Friends”) to the collection.

In the essay he wrote that his optimistic outlook about life and the future was gained through others:

So, you see, that my feeling of optimism came from the encouragement I got from those listed, and some not, who caused me to write/work/play joyously every day and thus achieve the optimal behavior I am always yelling about.

To live at the top of your lungs, your genetics, the rambling and incoherent half-awake, half-asleep dreams just before dawn, or in the morning shower, or on your pillow during afternoon naps. To NOT KNOW what you’re doing but find out in the doing. To always be surprised and never damn or turn away from surprise. To love life while surrounded by so much that is annihilation. To answer, as I did one night not long ago at a lecture, when asked, “Why do you write so much about death?” To which I said, “Because I am alive.”

Are you grieving for George and Carrie and all of the others? I understand. I grieve, too. But rather than curse 2016 and rail against the inevitable, I suggest the following.

Compose a song. Do a dance. Write a story or a screenplay or a book. Record a video that tells one of your favorite memories. Create something that will live long after you’re gone, so that people know you passed this way. Encourage someone so that they will live in joy, knowing you believe in them.

Live, so that death can never win.

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And so, on this day before the day before the day before 2022, let us celebrate this year about to end by … creating something.

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