As Monday’s passing of Nick Ashford gave way to today’s tenth anniversary of the tragic death of Aaliyah I find it instructive to do what my father always taught me
“Make sure you remember to connect the dots so you don’t just end up with freckles” – Inkognegro Beta (my father)
One of the most maddening things I experience in life is the lip-service paid to history. Our memories are as narrow as they are long. We can recite chapter and verse of what matters to us as though it is holy canon, yet scoff whenever someone dares suggest a little context, which invariably diminishes the moutain in our eyes to the molehill it probably deserves to be.
The very nature of Social Media in general, and Twitter in particular is that it is a massive but diverse organism in search of common themes to fuel it. Some folks seek to drive a narrative for one purpose or another, but most just float along and ride whatever wave comes along to pull them. As much as we would rather it not, those of us who indulge in social media to any appreciable degree are forced to ride the waves we catch, like it or not.
The difference between nostalgia of Monday’s Lament over the death of Nick Ashford differed from Thursdays acknowledgement of the death of Aaliyah in degree, tone…and intensity.
I have always been fascinated with the impact Aaliyah’s death had on her career. As someone who was a fan…but hardly a devotee of her, It was intriguing to watch the nostalgia build from one year to the next. Of course…the fact that her death came during the earliest stages of the broadband era, has only served to enhance her legacy. and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that. I do wish that she was as beloved in life, though. But that is how life is…It never occurs to us how fleeting it is…until it flees from us.
Which harkens me back to Mr. Ashford (to say nothing of the work his surviving wife of 37 years, Valerie Simpson). I would be lying if I said I was a huge fan or afficionado of his bonafides. I knew, intellectually, that he was a titan in the industry whose reach exceeded far beyond Solid as a rock and a cameo in New Jack City. Even if you delve into the Motown accomplishments or even lean into the work he (and Valerie) did for Ray Charles…rattling off a selection of hits in no way captures the cultural impact of Nick Ashford on the American Landscape. And no one thinks to do so until it is too late.
As we mourn the losses of Mr. Ashford and Ms. Haughton, let us Start to Pick metaphorical flowers for those legends amongst us who are still living. who still have lessons to teach us. So much is said about the paucity of genuine musical stars…I submit that if we spent more time lauding the stars amongst us rather than shepherding them into history, maybe there would be time for the stars of tomorrow to incubate and learn the craft. In our rush to crown new stars we may be leaving out the most obvious candidates.
Funny thing, death.
Even as it marks a definitive and complete end, in many ways, it marks a beginning.
A beginning of life after death.
Whenever someone close to you dies, at the instantaneous moment, YOUR life begins anew. The more significant that person is in your life, the more significant the new phase you begin.
You lose a distant uncle of your brother’s baby momma side, not much change to your life.
Lose a parent, a spouse, or a child Your new life becomes unrecognizable.
Then there are those curious situations where you lose someone who is very very important to you, but for various reasons they don’t have the tangible impact on your life that your emotional attachment to them might indicate.
I got a call from my mother that I had been half expecting for several months now. Grandma went to the hospital and it didn’t look good.
When you reach the ripe old age of ninety, when it doesn’t look good, it really doesn’t look good.
For me, it was about preparing yourself for the transition.
Grandma will be gone, soon, so find out what that means to you asap and start preparing for that reality.
I had about 6 days before my mother called again and told me it was important that I come now and not wait until her 91st birthday on January 17. My sons were already there with my mother and many of my cousins had already made the journey from wherever they went to escape our hometown of Pittsburgh back home.
I decided I had better follow suit and get up to Pittsburgh on the quickfast.
of course quickfast ended up being 11:50 PM ET on December 31.
You want to put a fork in New Years? Get off a plane at ten minutes to New Year’s and then spend 90 minutes waiting for church to let out so you can get picked up.
Once I got home, I realized I had done the right thing. I was probably the last person who saw Grandma and knew definitively that Grandma saw me back.
Once I brought the kids in the room and we hugged her one more time. It was a wrap for me.
But then comes the pre-mourn.
The pre-mourn is the period when you try to avoid mourning someone who isn’t actually dead yet.
You kinda treat them as though they have already gone on, but they are right upstairs.
So you wait. January 1 becomes January 2 and then January 3. the year has started and the novelty has worn off but you are sitting through bowl games afraid to do anything that remotely resembles celebrating or moving on. Ive been itching to write about grandma, but I felt like I was putting her in the grave before her time.
I took the boys back to the ex a day early because I didn’t want the kids to be there when the man with the stretcher came.
Once I did that, my blood pressure spiked, I could feel the moment coming. and at 9:55PM last night, Grandma Ink went home to be with the Lord only two weeks short of 91 years.
Grandma was my other mother, much as grandmas around the world are to children of single parents.
I inherited my random indistinct nose, and my gift to serve people, and my yellow from her.
She was nice enough to spare all her children and grandchildren the red-hair, and the freckles.
Now that Grandma has left me, I can start the year off.
A little Sad, a Little awed, but a lot relieved.