Happy Birthday Paul McCartney: Reflections on Consistency and Impermanence
We find comfort in consistency and familiarity, and so anxiety is inevitable in face of the reality that everything is impermanent
Therapist Selena Doggett-Jones wishes Paul McCartney a happy 80th birthday and offers her own reflections on this existential dilemma
I noticed melancholy descending on me yesterday and I didn't know why. We all feel low sometimes and depression is rife in our population, often coming on with no clearly identifiable trigger. When I questioned my mood I worked out what might have initiated this murky stagnation that makes the day feel sad and heavy.
I heard on the radio that Paul McCartney has recently turned 80 and is going to play Glastonbury as the headliner this coming weekend. Fantastic at 80 I thought. I saw a photo of Judi Dench with her increasing road map of wrinkles. Hours pass and I realise these two figures have been with me all my life. I don't know them personally but they have lived alongside me. They have been part of my life landscape and hearing of their vulnerability, being reminded of their mortality is what has brought me down.
You don't need to be an ardent fan to miss them. I miss Jon Snow on Channel Four News. Happily he is still with us but he doesn’t punctuate my day as he did and I miss that. The Queen, and I am not a royalist, with her stick and being unable to attend many public celebrations of her jubilee. Why should I care? I am not sure I do, but I do care about consistency and familiarity and I certainly wish her no ill. They make my world feel safe. Just as familiar objects and photographs in my home give a sense of belonging. I also think about the refugees whose homes have been destroyed and whose cities are under siege and the idea that they might be given criminal ankle tags sickens me.
Now on a different note this morning I watched a recording on YouTube of the late Elaine Stritch, herself in her 80s at the time of singing I'm Still Here at Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday concert at the Lincoln Center. If there was ever an antidote to existential blues this is it. She lists (within the lyrics) the life challenges she's survived and stomps the stage defiantly repeating with courage and humour that despite everything "She is still here." She herself having overcome alcoholism and been very open about it publicly. In an interview with Michael Parkinson she talks about not being able to answer the door or take a phone call without a drink let alone perform a solo on the Broadway stage. I want these gifted artists to always be here and not to grow old. They are my staples. I danced to Paul McCartney and the Beatles in my teens. I cried to them when love affairs ended. I laughed at their antics and shared their sounds with friends and family. My mother played Fool on the Hill over and over on our record player. I can see the Magical Mystery Tour rainbow-coloured album on our sideboard now. We will always have their music thanks to recording technology but I want their live humanity to stay in my world. It is like walking on a country road with wonderful hedgerows of spring flowers and nettles and slowly the hedgerows get thinner and thinner as I walk.
Of course new and very talented artists come along but they are unfamiliar. They are unknown in my history. So we all need to keep walking and learn to embrace the new and unknown because, if you are reading this – you are still here. That said we all need help sometimes to overcome sadness and the challenges that life throws at us. Celebrities can also inspire. Paul McCartney had to see his late wife, Linda through breast cancer, survived an acrimonious divorce from his second wife and he is still creating music and sharing it with the world.
It can be helpful to write about sadness and melancholy and allow it to sit with us a while rather than batting it away. We can take away some of its power if we talk about it with friends and family or a therapist. We often don't want to burden those close to us so an objective professional can be very helpful in supporting us to explore the source of sadness and by doing so can help disperse it and disempower the hold it might have over us.
Watching celebrities grow old could be considered a kind of ‘shadow loss’. Loss when there is no dead body involved. Living in the moment is key and enjoying those that mark our landscape while they are still here. I shall be watching Paul at Glastonbury on television on Saturday and I will be dancing.
Selena Doggett-Jones is a verified Welldoing therapist in London and online