For some people, the news that Prince died at age 57 in April 2016 was just another day in the headlines. For others, it was a moment of shock and a day or two of head-shaking and deep sighs. But for me and many of my contemporaries, it was news that took us off guard, not only by the surface-level surprise of it, but by the deep emotional stab.
If you came of age in the early 80s through the early 90s in any capacity – as an adolescent, or a young adult, or an emerging sexual being, or a spiritual seeker, or a fan of hybrid soul-rock-funk-jazz-r&b, or all of the above, then you knew Prince. Odds are good that you more than knew him. Even better odds say that his music is etched in memory as soundtrack to pivotal moments and defining periods of your young life – high school, college, the birth of enduring friendships, the quick explosion or long burn of passionate love affairs, the planting of professional seeds, the early-stage evolution of self-discovery. If this speaks to you, the days following the news of Prince were flooded with memories probably not touched in years. If your young life fits into a different chronology, you can swap Prince for some other creative voice, and still relate. News of any icon’s sudden passing makes old friendships sing familiar tunes, fun times ride back to life on pulsing beats, and old wounds feel fleetingly fresh.
When life is in everyday mode, time feels endless. It stretches out over long chains of linked days and layered events. We lose track of beginnings and endings. Some little piece of the psyche believes that times past are not times forever disappeared. Then a defining voice from a discrete portion of time is silenced forever, and we are thrust into recognizing that life is finite. The strings of attachment are forcibly severed, rather than persisting indefinitely while memories invisibly fray.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are clear about the causes of suffering, and first on the list is that we forget the truth of impermanence. The marking of the past by a present-day event exposes our small delusions of immortality, silenced by the roaring, onward march of life. Why are we so upset at the passing of a celebrity from our youth? We weep for Prince because we weep for time.