"It's funny how one insect can damage so much grain."
That is a line from Elton John's song of grief, "Empty Garden," written about the murder of Elton's friend, John Lennon, thirty-six years ago today, December 8.
Seven years ago, on 12/8/09, the pilot script of my TV series, "CITY ROCK," was performed live at the Cherry Lane Theatre, directed by Paul Michael Glaser. John Lennon's death plays prominently in the story of "Frank Cello" and his team of misfit warriors, named after the street teen who died on Frank's watch on the streets of Times Square in 1981. I hadn't consciously realized until the night of the performance last year that I had scheduled it to be on the anniversary of Lennon's death.
I had just finished reading a great new book today about that death and that day, entitled simply "December 8, 1980: The Day John Lennon Died," by Keith Elliot Greenberg. The book dramatically follows the utterly different paths of John Lennon and Mark David Chapman, John's assassin, paths that somehow brought them together on that fateful night 36 years ago to shock the entire world. It is quite gripping to experience the trajectories of these two souls as they arrive to an incredible endpoint in their starkly unique lives, in front of the Dakota that December night.
Just as I can still remember what I was doing, as a fourth grader, on the day John F. Kennedy was killed, and where I was and who I was with on the morning of September 11, 2001, I remember distinctly the details of the night of December 8, 1980.
I was riding a bus home from the evening shift at Covenant House, the then famous shelter for runaway teens in Times Square, when it was still a seedy Mecca for nefarious characters and lost souls from all over the country. I worked there per diem as a social worker, supplementing the income from my full-time day job at another social service agency. On Thanksgiving of that particular year, just 2 weeks before John's murder, I worked the evening shift at the shelter serving a sumptuous dinner to the kids that had been donated to Covenant House by John and Yoko. Each place setting had a card with artwork from John decorating it and a greeting from John, Yoko and Sean Lennon.
On that bus on December 8, around midnight, I was pretty much alone, lost in thought when the bus driver addressed me: "Did you hear what happened?" He asked. I just kind of mumbled, not really wanting to engage him. "They shot Lennon," he said. I thought to myself, "Oh boy, this guy's crazy," because I thought he was talking about Lenin, the communist leader who died almost sixty years earlier. The driver persisted, rocking my world. "Yep. They shot John Lennon."
I could feel the blood drain out of my face.
"They shot John Lennon?!"
What?! Who?! Why?!!?
Interesting, isn't it, that the bus driver used the pronoun "they?" It's not an uncommon usage, but who are "they?" Chapman clearly killed John and acted alone in doing so, but yet, when the driver said "They," it seemed somehow appropriate. On 9/11/01, the person who first told me about the attack also said "They flew planes into the World Trade Center," even though it was not yet known who actually did it.
Who are "they?"
Well, "they" are "us."
As John Lennon himself once wrote:
"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together."
John at least came to understand something in his short time on Earth about the true oneness that exists in All That Is. Many of his lyrics, during and after the Beatle era, reflect some of that understanding, although his life - and death - was one of dualistic turmoil.
Reading Greenberg's book and other chronicles of John Lennon's life reveals a human being with a great deal of unresolved pain and anger and fear, a history of brilliance and incredible accomplishments combined with great sadness, violence, jealousy and substance abuse. By choosing a lifetime in which he would be so monumentally famous, and die so infamously, you might say that John "volunteered" to play out the dualistic drama for us in his physical and emotional life, even as he sang about the true nature of our oneness and the synchronicity of everything that occurs:
"Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be."
Nothing truly, irrevocably tragic occurs, folks. We desire as souls to experience everything that we can conceive of, to know everything there is to know. In this "experiment" - three-dimensional physical reality in a linear time continuum - we are exploring how love, the essence of All That Is, can be expressed. It is intense. And perhaps, we are almost done with this particular experiment, which may be why so many feel ready to move on from the experience of separateness.
Maybe that's what John was asking us to imagine - no Heaven, no hell, no religion, no country, no possessions... in other words, a world without duality.
"All you need is love."