Pardon me while I wax philosophic about mass media space epics ...
Yesterday, I went to see Rogue One. I had avoided reviews and other spoilers, and yet I understood from early on that everyone would die. How could they not? It was harrowing to watch, and it was right. I was touched by Jyn's line, "Someone's out there," as the transmission of the Death Star plans was beamed out into the chaos. That felt like a summary of the whole film, and a message I want to receive in this era of resistance. Each of us does what we can and can only trust that someone else will be in position to make the next move. None of us can solve any of this on our own, and it is best we lay down our overweening sense of guilt that we cannot. Just do what you can and trust that someone's out there. And yet, at the same time, I was thinking, "Anyone can use this to justify their own 'rebellion.' Isn't that dangerous?"
And then the movie ended with Princess Leia's face filling the whole screen uttering the word "hope."
Of course it did. I was also not surprised by this. The whole movie pointed to this. And yet it got me, on multiple levels. The kid in me was giddy to go out and watch A New Hope again right away. The adult me felt pulled back into a reunion with my 7-year-old self, a little in love and thankful all over again for Leia's beautiful, funny, badassery. (Many people are writing about the legacy of this character for Gen X girls. I'll leave it to them to explain that in more detail. I actually wanted to be Han Solo, not Leia, but she was important to me too.) Part of me thought of the real world Carrie Fisher and how I had read a headline the night before that she was out of critical condition, and I hoped well for her. And, yes, part of me resonated with the contemporary political echoes of that word and the end of an era (and the beginning of something we cannot yet name).
I walked out of the theater into a bright, blue skyed afternoon, full of these thoughts. And in the car David told me what he had overheard in the lobby: Carrie Fisher had died. And I burst into tears.
I must be one of thousands of people who experienced a similar sequence yesterday. It would have been different if I had heard in the afternoon that she had died then went to see the movie at night. Her face on the screen would have been poignant, but the shock would have been different.
I don't remember if I cried when David Bowie died. I think I probably did. I barely cried when my own father-in-law died in February. Not for lack of feeling, but because I willingly allowed the need for action to and the primacy of other people's grief to put mine in the background. I'm not sure I've fully mourned him yet. I probably didn't cry when Prince or Gloria Naylor or Sharon Jones or Gwen Ifill or ...[fill in the blank] ... died, but I was sobered and sad and said my own little prayer (me, a non-prayer). When George Michael died I was stunned and slightly bemused ... him too?! I'm not one who thinks that 2016 has been any more greedy for celebrity deaths than any other year. I'm firmly middle aged. The icons of my youth will die. I get it.
But 2016 has been hard to take in so many ways (well, and in one giant way). This wave of loss feels tied into that, even if it is not logical.
When Carrie Fisher had a heart attack last week, I did not pay more than passing attention to it. I hoped she would be OK, and I went back to my own life. Part of me trusted that she would be OK, because she was still so young, and had proven herself to be so resilient.
I am not the world's biggest Carrie Fisher fan. I am not the world's biggest Star Wars fan. Hell, I saw Return of the Jedi for the first time last year. (And allow me to say, it was much better than my peers have led me to believe.) And I haven't even seen episode 3 at all, I don't think, or maybe I have and I've smushed it together with #2.
Yet her death leaves me reeling. Because she was young. Because she was resilient. Because as a friend said, she was such a "scarred and beautiful woman." Because she was willing to show her scars to the world and not go quietly into has-been beauty mode. Because she was funny as fucking hell, and smart, and a feminist in her bones. Because she made big mistakes and kept going. Because she was a writer, and her writing is part of the redemption she crafted for herself. Because she came back as Leia last year in "The Force Awakens" and I was hoping to see her again on screen, and now I never will.
It is all the never-wills of 2016 that are getting me down. And the moments of hope dashed.
Her young face on screen moments before I learned of her death. That brief space of time early in the evening of November 8, when the election map on Talking Points Memo glitched and showed West Virginia going for Hillary, before the truth set in. (That haunts me daily.)
These moments frighten me, because they remind me that danger lurks all the time. Each blue sky might be followed by ... what? I've felt this way before. In 2001, my first child was stillborn 5 1/2 months before the towers fell, and I realized I had no control over anything. The best I could do was to make my bed each morning and be in the moment. (Surely, I've written about this somewhere, and I will link it later.)
If 2016 has done anything, it has challenged me to see how a false sense of rational narrative and personal control has crept back into my being. Yes, there are chains of cause and effect, but those tendrils are often untraceable until much later. We are each of us blind to our place in the bigger picture. We are equally susceptible to tragedy as to bliss. And, not to put too fine a point on it, at the end of the movie, we will all die.
In the meantime, it is worth it to believe that someone is out there. It is worth it to hope. Isn't it?
Thanks being such a beautiful, funny, badass, Ms. Fisher.