David Bowie knew a thing or two about life. I was never a great fan; never painted my face with a lightning bolt or donned the outlandish gear (I was nowhere slim enough to carry it off anyway) but I do respect him as an artist. He knew that the only constant in life is change. Everywhere you look things are changing – growing, dying, being born, getting lost.
Leonard Cohen knew a thing or two about life as well, and loss is one of his major themes. Losing hope, losing love, losing your voice (when he went into the Zen monastery near Los Angeles he was known as the silent one; nobody knew who he was.) At Mount Baldy the monks meditated for up to eighteen hours a day and walked through the snow at 2 am to get to the meditation hall. I’m lucky if I manage eighteen minutes; I suppose walking through the snow at 2 am must have had its attractions for someone who’d spent the last thirty years in hotels, but it’s not for me.
Turn and face the strange is Bowie’s line. Greet it, welcome it, invite it in. Make it a really hot cup of tea – because there’s nothing certain in life but change. You think you’ve got it all set up, everything’s in place and you know where you’re headed – and in a heartbeat it can all go. ‘Gone, gone, utterly gone,’ as Richard Rohr puts it.
I used to be prone to nostalgia. Ah, those were the days… but nostalgia can be quite dangerous. It can keep you trapped in a past that probably never even was what it was. There are times when I yearn for the politics of the seventies, but then I remind myself that the seventies were also a time when sexism, racism and homophobia were normal, everyday occurrences. We can only live now and remember that now may be a time we look back on with nostalgia. What will I remember fondly about this time in my life? Impossible to say, but I’m sure there’ll be something. Meanwhile I fondly remember Bowie – and Leonard Cohen.