Losing different shapes of heroes

by lucy hicks beach ~

When I opened Instagram this morning and saw the first black and white picture of RBG on my friend’s story, a tightness rose in my chest and I buried my head in the pillow. As more photos and obituaries appeared on social media, and the reality of what her death means began to become more apparent, I put my phone down and had a short, but purposeful, weep. After about 5 tears had fallen during two pretty pathetic sobs, I sat up, let out a small scream of frustration, had a glass of water, and went downstairs.

Millions of people will have had a similar morning. The lead up to the US election makes Ruth Bader-Ginsberg’s death so much more poignant and terrifying. However, it’s not just the importance of Bader-Ginsberg’s role in current politics that has caused such global mourning, but the loss of a legendary female figure who so many look up to, and who has had such a vast impact on so many lives. I have found that so far today, this is where my heartache has lain. I feel this strange melancholy for someone who I haven’t met, but feel has shaped my life, and the lives of so many women, in some way. Like many others, I am mourning a woman whose life has been simultaneously so distant from, yet so important to, mine, and it is devastating that it has ended.

Earlier this week, my old music teacher, and mother of one of my friends, also passed away. Not only was she an incredible musician, but she sat at the centre of our school community. She fostered individual talent and progress whilst also building and cultivating relationships that made the music department a uniquely close kind of family. This sadness and grief is so different. Whilst it had been over a year since I’d last seen her, I had had a close relationship with her at school, in music class, going on choir trips, and being in the orchestra she led. She’s also the mother of a really wonderful friend, who has shown unbelievable and immense strength over the last year. My teacher had such a profound impact on my time at school and my relationship with music that has carried on past secondary education. She played for me in countless concerts, slowly encouraging me without any false compliments, whilst also letting me spend hours drinking tea in her office. She had this impact on so many people: she has shaped not just hundreds of individual lives and, but also the structure and heart of a school community.

These two women have had vastly different impacts on my life, and on the lives of those that they interacted with and advocated for, and it is a sad and strange feeling knowing that the world, with myself included, is carrying on without them. It is important that we do, but how? How do we continue with all of their work, kindnesses and effects remaining present in our lives, but without these people to actively make these things happen? When Chadwick Boseman died a few weeks ago, there was a similar large scale mourning for someone who had been so many people’s hero. There were particularly moving photos of young black boys holding memorial services with their Black Panther figurines. Thousands of tributes were paid to the man who had an immeasurable impact on so many people.

In these situations, do we find someone to replace our heroes and mentors? We have already seen that the Trump administration is eager to replace RBG’s spot on the Supreme Court with a Republican substitute, so yes, in some capacity we need someone to fill her role. But for RBG as a feminist leader, or Chadwick Boseman as someone leading the way to create space for people to be ‘young, gifted and black’, perhaps once the immediate sadness has subsided, we are able to take what they have given us as a way of moving forward. Ruth Bader-Ginsberg died on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and, taking a twist on the traditional saying ‘may her memory be for a blessing,’ social media has been filled with the phrase ‘may her memory be a revolution’.

The same goes for my music teacher; whilst she has not changed laws, she has moved in a way that has supported and encouraged people. It is not that everybody should become a music teacher, but that we take the confidence and care she has instilled in us, and share that with the people and spaces around us. The death of our heroes, teachers and people we love will never cease to be heartbreaking. It is not that we should ‘look for a positive’ in any of these tragic situations, but that, when the time comes to venture forward with our lives, we take what these people have given us, and continue to create the same joy, movements and revolutions that they began.