Jean and Michael.
How do you judge the impact of a person’s life?
..Why not ask an impossibly broad question? I know.
I ask because it’s a question that never really goes away when you work for yourself all day, doing very little to do with disaster relief say. And also because two particular people have posed the question to me anew lately. By dying.
They didn’t die together. They didn’t know of each other at all. And, in truth, I knew neither of them really at all either – one of them for many years, and one of them since the Wednesday before last.
There is a brutally efficient way to measure a life’s impact. Efficient because you can simply count it – and it’s the one we all feel the pressure to add to from time to time: Numbers Of Units Shifted.
You can fairly simply consider the influence of someone’s life by that reckoning. Which is, presumably, why Rupert Murdock is a hero to some.
He turned a fledgling British satellite broadcast business with a handful of staff into a business empire large enough to bias the entire media political debate of the most influential country on Earth. The self-proclaimed Reasonable of America have had to rally on Washington DC this weekend to try their best to be even noticed by the US media, such has been the glare and noise of Murdock’s sensationalist influence through Fox News over years.
But if that’s the measure of a human life, then most of us will never flicker the scale of impact, will we?
And if it turns out that those who have seemed to shift enough units to make the impact-o-meter make a sudden oofing noise actually find the experience of shifting those units pretty empty and meaningless in the end anyway, then what’s the point of that exactly?
No. If all you want to do is add to a balance sheet, you may find in the end that it’s equally taken away something from another column – the one snootily marked Your Soul.
I suspect that making a meaningful impact has more to do with being prepared to stand up and be counted. As you.
Michael Larsen was young when he died, just over a week ago. He was 28. He grew up in Downtown Minnesota, a very ordinary city in America, and went to the local high school. But, though I had never heard of him, a lot of people in the Hip Hop community certainly had.
Under his stage name Eyedea, he’d built an impressive reputation over ten years as a freestyle rapper – a champion of underground verse. Rising up through Emcee battles and taking prizes at prestigious competitions like Scribble Jam, he showed a formidable confidence.
Young Michael could pull rhymes and thoughts out of thin air with effortless dexterity.
I heard about his premature and unexplained death from UK rapper and writer, Scroobius Pip. Pip’s own credentials were there in his impassioned blog post about just how much Eyedea’s talent and attitude had affected him.
I then clicked to a YouTube link of Eyedea freestyling on the influential Wake Up Show. What a watched dawned on me as something very sobering – natural talent. Undiluted, unselfconscious – if that doesn’t sound ironic when describing a freestyle rap battle champ – and challenging to all pretenders. This guy didn’t have to spend hours labouring over verse, he just tapped into the ether and pulled it out of the air.
It reminded me of the early days of Hip Hop that added something to my young teenage years, and how much I marveled then at how some guys could just do such things with words without chewing a pencil end and practicing.
And it was clear he’d been loved for his gift. Now, inexplicably, that gift was gone. And for many people, it was obviously leaving a big hole.
Jean was someone I knew through our little local church. She must have been, I should guess, somewhere nearing her 80s when she died, but for the last 20 of those at least, she was a regular supportive face at the various incarnations of the little Southbourne fellowship we so often found ourselves turning up at.
Some people seem to become old people. Any old person you don’t know is just an old person when you’re young, I guess. But there are some who defy the aging process in your mental image of them – perhaps because you simply know them as people and are as baffled as they are that the numbers on their clock have apparently added up so much, or perhaps by sheer force of their personality. Some people appear to get comfortable acting old, despite all the discomfort. And some people have a light in their eye that marks them out as a person, not a type of person. Some people look as if they still get it.
Jean still got it. Or at least, my impression of her when we occasionally swapped greetings was that she still got it. Whatever it was. She was funny. She had a sharpness of witty response that showed self awareness. And when someone looks like they are aware that they are in the room, usually, other people are too. I always was.
Which is why, perhaps, hearing that she was no longer in the room left a proper moment of absence in my mind. As little as I knew Jean, that twinkle of hers was the spark of life itself, and it immediately left a negative shape by going out.
I would judge that by simply being herself, Jean made quite an impact with her life. Perhaps the most crucial kind. An encouraging one.
One commentator on this morning’s A point of view described the loss of her school art teacher. She was, to over-simplify an eloquent ten minutes of heart-felt description of this creative woman, an obvious force of nature. The sort that often finds it hard to find stability in their private life, and hard not to influence everyone they meet publically.
And perhaps a former art teacher who enthused about how to see the world in every colourful sense is the perfect person to illustrate the best way to measure a life’s impact.
If you can generate even a little of that in someone else, you are perhaps adding in microcosm to the greatest impact the universe has ever felt.
Here’s to Jean and Michael. They will be missed.