What Would Prince Do? or: When death is an opportunity to step your fucking game up
It's hard for me to admit this, but: I wouldn't necessarily call myself a Prince fan. I've always admired Prince and his music, but it would be dishonest of me to qualify myself as a "fan." (Maybe you could blame my parents, but I'm also totally willing to imagine a reality in which my cultural taste was severely compromised by how much time I spent around white people growing up.)
Anyway. The point is: Yesterday, when I found out that Prince Rogers Nelson had passed, I cried.
A sisterfriend of mine came to find me on campus. We hugged and she held my hands and wept as she said, "I'm starting to feel like this world isn't sustainable for us." This broke my heart wide open. Whitney, Michael, Prince. Our Black cultural icons are disappearing in front of our eyes, and we're wandering around, hands out in the dark, looking for someone who might fill their shoes.
I mean, thank God for Beyoncé, honestly. At least we have Beyoncé. But - no shade- Bey's nowhere close to being half the musical genius or revolutionary that Prince was. His music transcended. Beyond that, his presence on this planet was culturally and politically radical. The way he lived in the world - how he literally embodied a radical politics- gave so many people permission to do the same.
What my homegirl said to me stopped my in my tracks. I thought about it all day. This world does start to feel unsustainable, doesn't it? Why is this planet so damn difficult to occupy?
The thing about Prince was: he found a way to live in the world that was sustainable for him, and he did so without apology. I think about Prince and I think about how badly I want to to change the world, how much work I'd have to do to make an ounce of the magic he made while he was alive.
I cried for Prince and had to check myself. My subconscious was like "Excuse me? Girl, why are you so pressed? You couldn't even name two of his albums!" I realized that I was mourning not because I felt like I had suffered a personal loss, but for a sense of what the whole world, myself included, had lost.
I came across a post by the brilliant Bomani Jones, who said, "We haven't lost Prince. Energy doesn't die, it transforms." Y'all. The truth shall set you free. I had kept reading and using the word "loss," but couldn't help but feeling like this was the wrong language. There was something that felt not just dishonest about it, but like we were doing Prince a disservice to say that we had lost something he so abundantly and graciously gave.
Bomani is right. We haven't lost anything. Just because the source of light is gone doesn't mean we have to sit in the dark.
This is not to say that we shouldn't mourn. Au contraire. I'm a firm believer in feeling your feelings, even the more unpleasant ones. But the thing about grief is that it's an unsustainable emotion. In many ways, it's a call to action. You can't feel grief and not be forced to ask yourself, "What do I need to do to not feel this way anymore?"
Bomani's post rocked me, hard. I realized that when someone who offers a gift to the world is no longer here to give it, it's simply an opportunity for us fill up the space that they left. What would happen if we collectively shifted our understanding of death from "loss" to "opportunity?" What happens if we decide to create and sustain whatever it was we are so afraid of losing?
My friend Meredith died in November of 2015. She had battled mental health issues for years, and finally decided she was ready to not be here anymore. I met Meredith in high school, and even at 15, you could tell she had demons that some of us will never even be able to imagine. Still, she was such a light. She was unapologetically herself; she loved what she loved and she made it a point to surround herself with things that brought her joy.
I spent days on her Facebook page after I got the news of her passing; needed to fill myself with memories, to have something to ground myself with.
Reading through the posts, I came to see that the thing that most of us who loved Meredith remembered about her is how hard, how fiercely, how deeply she loved us. When I think of Meredith - when I remember she's gone- I feel a dull, dark kind of grief in my body. An unparalleled sense of fear. What are we going to do without that kind of love?
After Meredith died, I made a list of all the people I wished I said "I love you" to more often. I called or messaged all of them to let them know that I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if they didn't know how much they meant to me. It made me want to love people as strongly as Meredith had loved me.
When I look at Prince, how he absolutely SLAYED every look, every album, every performance; how he refused to live within boundaries; how he committed his life to living his politics... It makes me want to do the same. I see how the whole world is coming together to celebrate his life, to say how much Prince meant to them, how their lives were changed because of his.
So, I guess I say all this to say: I want to be more like Prince. I want to be someone whose courage and audacity gives the world permission to be brave. I want to see what kind of world we can create when we step the fuck up to fill the space he left. When we refuse to allow his death to mean that now we have to live in a world without his kind of light.
We've got some big shoes to fill. Let's go.