I never shared a table with David Bowie. I never shared a bed with him, or a caress, a smile or a conversation, or even a ride on an uptown train. I did not know him. And yet his death touches me. Not in the personal way of a dying parent or a close friend. Not in the hive mind buzz of the passage of a historical figure. But in the way of an icon.
David Bowie, icon, is not a part of my personal story, but he is part of so, so many others. He is a word or a sentence in the story of a young boy who identified with his gender-bending fashion, long before gender fluidity was the noun du jour. He is a nut or a bolt in the frame that holds up a young girl looking for the courage of self-expression. He is a chapter in the story of a man who realized he didn’t need to define himself by any one thing. He is a thread in the fabric of a young woman who gave herself permission for reinvent herself time and time again.
That is what icons do. They bind us to each other in a time and place, in a mood or a song, in a moment of realization or a breath of recognition. It is the gift and the burden of an icon. The pieces of themselves they throw out into the world like confetti get tangled up and entwined with our own. They get woven into our own dreams and personas, into our personal histories. It happens with books and movies, with places and with people, but every now and again it happens with people we’ve never met, someone we have no personal connection too: someone whose shadow looms large enough to eclipse our lives, even if it is just for a moment. Just for one day.
When an icon dies is it any wonder those threads and fibers woven in with our own stories hum in mournful recognition? Is it any wonder they sing out, in one last hymn of good-bye?
In mourning the death of an icon you are mourning a tie that binds you not only to them, but to the person you used to be, the one you are, the one you are about to become. The knot that held you firmly in that time and place unravels. Not enough to send you spinning off into space; but enough to make you pause. Just enough to fall to Earth.