Recently, I found myself at an age where people I’ve admired since my youth are passing away. It’s been affecting me more more deeply than I would have expected. Robin Williams’ death began the experience, and now, in the last two weeks, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey passed. David Bowie’s exit has stood out for me in particular. Not only because in listening to his last album it’s clear that he knew it was a farewell piece, but even more because of the impact he had on mine and others lives.
Bowie is well known for many things, one of which is his remarkable eyes. When he as a young lad, he was punched in the face by a friend during a rivalry for the attentions of a young woman. The blow damaged his left eye to the point where his pupil was unable to change size from that point forward. This left his eyes looking as if they were two different colors.
Rather than shy from this differentiation, Bowie embraced it. He knew he was different than this peers and his eye just made it more apparent to everyone. Rather than hide it, he leveraged it. He experimented in his music, creating characters like Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Man. He tried out homosexuality and then bisexuality during a time when such open lifestyle choices were rarely accepted, let alone en vogue. Rather than bend his musical sound to the tastes of the time, he kept his music honest to who he was. Sometimes it was a little odd, but most of the time it was brilliant. He enjoyed an amazing career, and it’s hard to find anyone who had anything negative to say about him.
At a young age, I watched Bowie being different and his unabashed expressivity made it easier, safer for me to feel different. In Bowie I didn’t see a risk taker; instead, I saw authenticity and I wanted to be as authentic as he was. Even though he is no longer with us in the flesh, the impact he made on my life through the years can never be taken away.
While it’s true that given a long enough timeline everything comes to an end, the mark we make on the lives of others does not diminish after we are gone. Whenever I look at the stars I’ll always hear Bowie’s Space Oddity in my mind. When I plan a practical joke, I’ll always measure it against how Robin Williams might envision it.
It’s not just art or entertainment that leaves a mark on our lives. Often simple, everyday actions inspire people more effectively, and beyond what we think is possible. This is because people are generally more open when they are just going about their daily lives, not paying attention to whether or not you are attempting to “inspire” them. There are even stories of people on their way to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge, who found new hope simply because a stranger smiled at them as they passed.
No matter who you are, long after the moment has passed, the action or words that you provided another person continue to work on them, breaking down limiting beliefs or building up new ways of thinking. You don’t have to be famous, or a “genius” to spark a change in someone else’s life. In fact, it’s more effective if you aren’t.
As you embark on your 2016 journey, who could you be inspiring without even realizing it? How have your recent actions lived up to something that’s inspiring and what could you work on more? What mark could you leave this year, that could outlast your lifetime?
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” ― Shannon L. Alder