A few days ago I opened my Facebook to find it flooded with some disappointing news: David Bowie had passed away.
I saw post after post mourning the loss of a spectacular artist. People across the world were sharing how he impacted their lives, memories of the first time they ever heard a David Bowie song, and what they loved about his art. They were sharing in the collective mourning that seems to only happen at the loss of a celebrity.
It was tragic. It was beautiful.
And it reminded me how much of our society is built on celebrities. How much we rely on the production of art and culture to impact our lives. How devastating it is when those whom we idolize leave us.
Celebrities affect the way that we see and interact with the world. They influence the way we understand ourselves and how we experience the world. This influence makes us feel as though we have an intimate relationship with people we have never met, and as a result it often makes their deaths more difficult to process than we might have expected.
It’s disappointing when those we idolize pass away because we wish they could continue contributing to the world. We are heartbroken that the only way we will be able to interact with them is through what they left behind. It’s almost unfathomable to imagine what life will look like without their influence, without a new song or movie to shape our understanding and impact our lives.
We know that their creations will continue to live on forever, so it’s difficult to imagine that they will not.
And while David Bowie wasn’t a particularly large influence in my life (though I have seen Labyrinth a few hundred times) seeing all of my friends share his work reminded me that in some way he will remain with us indefinitely. The impact that celebrities have will live on, and their time here on earth is not limited to their earthly life spans.
Celebrities become, in a sense, immortalized through their work.
The collective consciousness that is created by openly mourning a loss together is incredibly comforting. But it also leaves us with the temptation to suspend that person in time. With celebrities, rather than mourn their loss on earth and expect salvation, they live in perpetuity through their art.
They live eternally on earth, and we will not.
And we should be comfortable with that, because that isn’t our ultimate objective as Orthodox Christians. But the fixation we have with celebrities, and the fake immortality that we credit to their earthly presence, distracts us from the fact that we all live eternally through Christ. And only through Christ.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
When society glorifies celebrities we make their limited time on earth more important than their inevitably eternal life. We prioritize a false immortality, which preserves shadows of people in music and movies rather than true, complete persons; a false immortality that is only available to the elite, to those clever or beautiful enough to be worth remembering. We construct a false paradise made in the image of our broken world, and forget that what we do on this earth, while important, is all in the service of something more important.
I love media, I love art, and I find the loss of artists who inspire me just as heartbreaking as everyone else. I’m appreciative for what they’ve offered me. And I struggle to remember that I’m not going to be able to exist beyond my lifetime here on earth, at least not in the memory of pop culture. But I do my best to remember that I’m not chasing that type of immortality.
When we are mourning the loss of anyone, celebrity or otherwise, it is comforting to know there are others that share in the loss. It is also comforting to remember that their existence will not only live on in our memories, but that they will be protected and saved by Christ in perpetuity.
We pray that the memories of those who have passed on will be eternal, because that means that we too will have our memories preserved eternally.
I’m hoping to spend eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. And I hope to see everyone there.
Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah. She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones. Charissa currently lives in New York City.
For more on eternal life, check out this episode of Be the Bee: