“…it’s one of these moments where you feel like an era has come to an end and the world is a little emptier,” so spoke the wisdom of Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, on the occasion of the passing of Olivia Newton-John.
In a matter of only a few days, two Australian icons in the performance industry, Judith Durham (only four days ago) and Olivia Newton-John (9 August) have gone, passing into the night of ‘history’. And yet it is not so, a heavy shade of presentism, which distorts our sense of time and our place in history during these extraordinary times. Richard Marles is also the Minister of Defence, and with the Taiwan Strait dramatically heating up, it is fair to say we are in extraordinary times.
Nevertheless, our cognition – sense, thought, emotion – of extraordinary times is constructed. We forget that many extraordinary times have come before. There were other periods, across time, when a series of celebrities ‘fell off the perch.’ Persons die all of the time. Massacres of persons are lost almost weekly, and we do not perceive at all the meanings of history.
We are compelled to the meaning for our own history, to our own small world, and this is why I think Marles’ words are wisdom in the midst of all the global tributes. The era and world have come to an end, and we have been emptied of its content. But what Marles did not say is that it is a continuing and dynamic process.
This week I attend a funeral for a relative that touched the lives of many families. He had lived several worlds and a few eras, as we all do. Five years ago, I had to officiate at the funeral of my lover, partner, and wife, and the mother of our daughters. Ruth died at the age of 55 years. Some will know what that is like, and, what that is like, is to understand that “an era has come to an end and the world is much emptier.” We all live through many worlds and a few eras, and the unhistorical among us pretend in an everlasting present. The present is only a forward moving action (a thought from Sartre). In its fleeting pretense, it holds the shaping power of the past and the hope for the future.
When I think of the passing of Judith Durham and Olivia Newton-John, I think of that emptier world that Ruth and I shared. It is gone, and it was gone long ago. Yet it is still in that fleeting pretense of the present. I still write poetry for Ruth in memoriam and in my heart.
Image: Troubled teenager boy with hidden face sitting in the night street. Photo 33447447 / Night Street © Woraphon Banchobdi | Dreamstime.com