John Lennon

John Lennon in guns

Image by afagen via Flickr

Today is one of those anniversary days of the death of a famous person who somehow binds all humanity, depending on one’s perspective.

All over the blogosphere and in every other conceivable news and social media, people haul out their “When John Lennon was killed, I was …”

It just so happens that I do remember where I was when Lennon’s murder was first reported.  I’d just gone to bed and my father rapped on the door,

“Are you still awake?”


Howard Cosell just announced that John Lennon was shot and killed in New York,” he said. “He’s that Beatle you like, right?”

It didn’t occur to me at the time to be touched by the fact that my father, a man who loathed popular music dating back as far as Elvis, had even been paying attention to my music likes and heroes.

“Yeah, thanks for telling me,” I replied.

“Are you going to be okay?” Another shocker that didn’t register at the time.

“Sure,” I said.

He closed the door and went back to the living room to finish watching Monday Night Football.

That was thirty years ago. I was just sixteen and days away from my birthday.

Dad’s died since then. I’ve grown up. Married. Twice. Had a child. Emigrated to another country. Changed careers. All fairly important mile markers and yet the tragic death of a pop star is still etched clearly enough in my memory to earn a pivotal moment position if only because it connects me to millions of people I will never know personally, but who share this memory with me in their own way.

It was not a personal tragedy. Only those closest to him can claim that and even so, I hesitate to call it a tragedy because I don’t know what doors or paths were opened to them by his ending. Endings are necessary after all for beginnings to have their day.

In retrospect, Lennon was past his creative prime in 1980. Double Fantasy was mediocre and certainly no less fluffy and inconsequential as the music he criticized his old partner, Paul McCartney, for producing. Old men lose their edge, I guess. Love and parenting do that to most people and they weren’t exceptional in that regard.

I suppose there is a larger point to taking stock of his death. It marks time and change. There is nothing wrong with noting where we were or the journey we’ve taken to where we are now.

As I was driving home from town this morning, the disc jockey reminisced about that evening long ago. His mother had knocked on his bedroom door to tell him the news too. He played a snippet of an interview Lennon gave shortly before his death where he admitted that he’d like to grow old with his wife, but that he wasn’t afraid of death. He felt it was nothing “like changing cars”. His life would go on in any event. A lovely sentiment that I don’t think too many share, which is sad.

If nothing else, this anniversary pulls people together to a common place for a moment before they diverge again and can see only their differences.

Simulated gravitational lensing (black hole go...

Image via Wikipedia

Lay down all thought

Surrender to the void

It is shining

It is shining

-John Lennon, lyrics to Tomorrow Never Knows off the Revolver album




Widowed people often ask about filling the void left by their deceased spouses, or rather they talk about how it can’t be filled. Surprisingly, I don’t disagree with them. Voids can’t be filled. How can you fill something that isn’t empty?


Voids are black holes of the soul. They devour. Nothing escapes their gravitational pull. Everything that was joyous and worth getting up in the morning for has been sucked into this pitch-colored vortex, never to be experienced again. They act almost like vacuum, clearing away the memories left behind by our spouses like cracker crumbs. Remnants of a life that hide like a set of misplaced car keys when you need them, but turn up when unexpectedly and rock us to our core.


Voids are necessary for the same reason that basements or backs of closets exist. They hold the things that our lives can’t rid themselves of, for a variety of reasons, but can’t use anymore either. Psychic storage units that you venture into at your own emotional risk. Why would you throw opportunities for love and happiness into that?


The life you find yourself living in the aftermath hangs on the edge of this blackened crater. It would be easy to fall in, let the dark claim you, but most of us don’t. True, we wander the rim for a time, but eventually we walk away in search of unscathed earth to resettle ourselves upon.


It’s not about “filling” anything or in the case of “the void” paving over it. It is about relocation, finding new space or in some cases making new space. Some people don’t have the capacity. They surrender to the grief. Or worse, they seek replacements and dump new love on top of old pain. It always comes back to this however, acknowledging the former life and honoring the love that once was while moving forward and being open to the possibilities that life does present even to those who aren’t paying attention.