Five Years (or, What David Bowie Taught Me)

The recent passing of rock icon David Bowie brought him back into the the public eye and deservedly so. Perhaps no musician in my lifetime had as much creativity and influence as he. Nobody was better at reinventing himself or keeping his style fresh and mysterious.

I was a fan. Bowie wasn’t necessarily my “go to” music but, when I was in the mood, his work could scratch an itch few other artists could reach. I’ve dusted off some old Bowie in the days since his passing. I just finished listening to what was, arguably, his masterpiece album, “Ziggy Stardust.” Ziggy is one of those concept albums that you have to listen to from start to finish to fully appreciate. I hadn’t sat down and given this album a full listen in years. It is, just as I remembered it to be, stunning! If you aren’t familiar with the concept of Ziggy Stardust,  let me fill you in, briefly. Ziggy was a fictional persona (an alien) created by Bowie. Bowie took on this persona and played the role of Ziggy Stardust, for a full year, in everything he did. His concerts during that year were basically playing out the story of the album on stage.

The opening track really hit me hard this time. The album begins with the song “Five Years.” In this song, it is announced on the planet where Ziggy lived that their world would be ending in five years and there was nothing they could do to stop it from happening. This leads to, as you might expect, a pretty freaked out populous. Ziggy ends up coming to Earth and becomes a rock star here and the rest of the album goes on from there. But, for the purposes of this reflection, I want to stop at the first song.

Standing there in the shower, listening to this music, I began thinking, what would happen if we found out that life on Earth would end in five years, that it was a certainty and there was nothing we could do to stop it? Obviously, there would be mass panic and then the smartest and richest would start the work of trying to get off this rock and finding a new one to colonize. But what of the rest of us? What of you and me?

How would your life change if you had five years left from now? How would you spend your time? Would work be so important? Would you go around all the time being up in arms and pulling your hair out over politics? Would it matter to you any more how much money this one makes or that one makes compared to what you make? Would it matter what color someone’s skin was? Would the way you treat people change?

Here is the realization I came to as I pondered all of this. Not knowing how much time we have left on this planet is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it allows us the luxury of relaxing and shutting down sometimes. It isn’t a pleasant way to exist when you are constantly being reminded of the ticking clock counting down. But on the other hand, that clock IS ticking down, for all of us. Some of us reading this (or in my case, writing this) may not even have five years left. That’s just a fact. We aren’t promised another hour, let alone five years, or fifty. Knowing when the last grain of sand would run out of our hourglass would give us a sense of what is important pretty quickly.

What seems the best course of action for me is to pause once in a while and ask myself those questions from a couple paragraphs above— to remind myself, just occasionally, that, while I hope I have more than five years, my clock is ticking down. Perhaps if I think about the song “Five Years” and ask myself some basic questions about what is important once in a while, whatever time I do have left will be better spent.

Just some basic food for thought.

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