When I awoke last Thursday, I rolled over and grabbed my phone as I do every morning. I did the obligatory Facebook check and noticed that a friend had shared an article about Alan Rickman.
Oh hey, someone else who thinks he’s as awesome as I do, I thought.
What a minute. There’s only one reason people start sharing random articles about people who haven’t just released a blockbuster film, checked into rehab, been arrested, or made a sex tape. All of which I was nearly certain hadn’t happened.
I make it a point not to idolize celebrities. Nor pretend they are my friends. While I acknowledge that it can feel like we know someone when we let his or her art into our hearts and we feel something, I know that it’s an illusion. In the case of an actor, it’s not even a real person we imagine we know, it’s the character he or she portrays.
But Alan Rickman was different. Something in the way he carried himself, something in his voice or his kind eyes. Something metaphysical that I can’t explain. When he worked on the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie”, it confirmed what I already knew. He was someone with an admirable sense of integrity and a solid moral compass. Someone I would have liked to have known.
When I was having a bad day, I’d sometimes imagine I’d run into him at a party and we got to chatting about acting and writing. I let the illusion play out. It was the only time I didn’t feel like an idiot assuming someone like him would be interested in talking to someone like me. Because I knew he would.
He was just about the only celebrity I could imagine myself having the courage to engage in conversation, if by chance I did happen to run into him. I knew he’d be kind about it. But also because I knew we’d connect, which is not something I feel often, as the socially awkward, semi-introverted writer I am. I find it difficult to connect with many people, but I know a kindred spirit when I find one.
I’ve been fighting back tears, the past few days, when I remember that he’s gone and I feel that emptiness. Then I fight back the shame. Because I have no reason to cry over someone I don’t know. And yet I still feel like someone has a grip on my heart and is trying to pry it from my chest.
I never really understood the sadness people felt when someone they didn’t know personally would pass away. I accepted that it’s a thing people feel. I never looked down on anyone for feeling it. I just didn’t feel it myself. But now I think I understand.
When someone we know and love passes away, that emptiness we feel in missing their presence is agonizing when faced with the reality that we will never talk to them again. Never feel their touch. Hold them. Delight in their laughter. See profound joy on their face.
But where does that feeling of emptiness come from if we never did engage them in conversation, embrace them, or find ourselves the source of their good-natured laughter?
From the termination of possibility. While they’re alive there’s always a chance they’ll do another film, release another album, have a speaking tour, or that, no matter how far-fetched, you’ll run into them one day at your local café and they’ll be down for a chat. There’s always a chance to connect.
I feel I’ve lost the possibility of connecting with a great potential…mentor? Honorary uncle? Friend? I don’t know, the relationship escapes definition, just like my feelings still seem to me to escape reason, even as I continue to feel them.
My heart still hurts. So this time I’m just gonna go ahead and hang on to the illusion that he was my friend, ok? And the world feels a little empty without him.
Goodbye, Alan Rickman. I always hoped I’d have the chance to see you perform in the theatre. And maybe bump into you at an after party where we would chat about our respective art forms and I’d have a warm memory to look back on. I truly thought I had more time.