A legend died earlier this week. This comes as no surprise, as legends — no matter how great – are still mortal. Like everyone else, they die. It may be the only time it feels like we can relate to such greatness. What’s remarkable about David Bowie’s death is that it happened peacefully and secretly. For eighteen months, the man knew he had cancer and chose to keep that fact quiet. Remarkably, so did everyone else close to him who also knew his condition. In these times of rumors, internet gossip, and major incentives to provide news, no one strayed from Bowie’s trust. It was only when he was gone that the public knew the truth and began to mourn. Each and every person that knew – from loved ones to medical providers – remained silent about the fact that a musical icon was dying. This strong and unanimous act resonates with respect for the man’s wishes and the man himself. And now the world grieves as they reflect on how much this artist and his music impacted their lives.
When I was in Oman, Sultan Qaboos was nowhere to be seen. The country knew he was in Germany because of his poor health, but otherwise an entire nation remained ignorant. What was wrong with their leader? Was he going to heal? Was he already gone? Six months went by without an appearance. Oman stayed positive but uninformed. Then, November 15, 2015, three days before his birthday/National Day, the Sultan made a television appearance letting his people know he was OK, but needed more time in Germany. The country erupted with pride, excitement, and relief. Four months later, the Sultan surprised everyone by stepping off an airplane onto the soil of his land. He was back and the nature of his illness was never discussed. Complete secrecy from his providers, the medical facility in Germany, and his advisors.
I knew a relative of the Sultan’s doctor. When this person saw the Sultan step off the airplane, it was only then that they knew their brother was back home. This doctor kept all secrets from his family to the point where they had no idea he was returning after being gone for ten months. Only the television coverage let them know. The Sultan’s secret and the man himself were granted the respect of privacy. My friend could not know the truth, because so few were permitted such knowledge. And immediate family members of the Sultan’s doctor were Omanis, nothing more. My friend was hurt by the secrecy, yet she understood why it had to be.
I wonder how many of Bowie’s friends experienced similar pain. Who knew of his cancer, and who was treated like the rest of us – left to learn of his illness only through death. A death that appeared so sudden yet was far from it. Secrets held tightly during a year and a half of suffering and creation. Bowie living long enough to create one last masterpiece for all of us – friends, family, the rest of us. Most equal in ignorance.
RIP Sultan Bowie. Thank you for shaping our lives. And thanks to those who remained silent and honored the man in the best way possible – by letting him live out his last eighteen months as he wished and letting us grieve only when it was time.