I’m having a tougher time finding the positive space today. I didn’t sleep well last night, had a rough hour with one of my online classes today; and of course, the universe dropped this on us:
I tried to think of something I could share today that would be happy; but honestly, I’ve just been singing Bill Withers songs in my head all day. I won’t say I grew up listening to him (I kind of did, though, because “Lean On Me” is an anthem for me. First song I learned to play on the piano, back when I was still going to Sunday School. And that was a looooong time ago.) but the last few years I’ve come to appreciate his genius: once I found out just how many beautiful songs he wrote that I already knew. My favorite thing that I found out today, listening to his Best Of… album, was that one of my favorite R&B hooks was taken from Mr. Withers.
You just need to hear the first ten seconds — though of course, if you want to hear the whole song, it’s worth it. And it’s only two minutes.
And here it is again, from 1996:
But thinking about this is sad. So I can’t write about this.
At the same time, though, I can’t pretend even on my happiest day that the world isn’t caving in under the weight of sadness and fear and pain — I want to add “right now” at the end of that sentence, but it’s always like that for some of us, at least some days: every day is sad. Every day there is death and loss and sorrow and grief. And while I don’t want to dwell on that, I want to bring some joy even to people who are grieving right now — and any time — I don’t want to ignore it, either, don’t want to pretend that the pain isn’t real.
So while I will grieve for Mr. Withers’s passing, I will remember this, from another of my very favorite artists:
“Listen,” said Granger, taking his arm, and walking with him, holding aside the bushes to let him pass. “When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor. He was also a very kind man who had a lot of love to give the world, and he helped clean up the slum in our town; and he made toys for us and he did a million things in his lifetime; he was always busy with hishands. And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the back yard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them just the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think, what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands. He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”
Granger stood looking back with Montag. “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
I’m sure I’ve posted this before, but this is the passage that sticks with me. This is what I think of when I think of death, and when I think of memory, and of legacy. I don’t know if I believe in a soul, but I certainly know two things: the world has been bankrupted of uncountable fine actions, now that Mr. Withers has passed on; and, whenever we hear things like this, things that he shaped and touched, he will be there. His soul will live on in this.
And here, of course, is where Bill Withers’s soul will touch all of us: because Mr. Withers told us how we handle the unbearable weight of the world. With the help of others.
Thank you, sir. Rest well.