One of my lifes’ great heroines just turned 80 years old. In my eyes, this number is at once huge as in the grand and unfolding experience over this period of time, and mind blowing in the context of this individual’s journey. When I think about what life and this world have served up to the artist Yoko Ono, I am stunned and stand in awe of her – even more at this her 80th.
I will say right now that I’ve had two women who inspired me deeply; personally, professionally and spiritually. They are the most unlikely duo to be paired in the same thought or sentence, yet with me they are my inspirations. They are the goddesses Yoko Ono and Tina Turner, my A- team.
I think Yoko and Tina share a number of things in common though I doubt that many other people would consider them together this precise way. Both women have Buddhism in their lives. Tina chose hers and is a fervent practitioner and Yoko was raised in a Buddhist and Christian home. Neither women are Anglos (obviously) and both have pushed up against unimaginable adversity and triumphed. One is beloved and the other was vilified for a long long time and thankfully that is changing. Each has demonstrated a spirit and resilience that has made the impossible seem easy.
I have always loved and celebrated Yoko and learned so much from her. She was an inspiration to me before I met her, with her performance art always forcing me into exploring unexamined territory. Yoko has never feared taking an unpopular stand artistically in her physical or performance art or music as her critics have cheerfully reminded us all. For decades Yoko withstood an outpouring of vitriol with grace and humor that would’ve melted the wicked witch in Oz. In recent years, and even in a New York Times opinion piece a month or two back there has been the great Yoko reconsideration. I didn’t need to read it. My love has been a constant.
Before I ever interviewed Yoko or her son Sean, I loved her. She’s a broad with guts. She’s smart and educated and never fit into a box, neither the box expected of a Japanese women of her day or the wife of a super rock star box , which she quickly blew to smithereens. I’ve always believed that had Yoko been a cute, non threatening blonde, the knives wouldn’t have come out so quickly. But Yoko was a success before she met John, an artist at heart and a fierce mother. She was and remains vibrant and visionary. The fans wanted their hero, not his soul mate.
When I met Yoko to interview her, all I could see was her brilliance, and wit, her stand for her art and her unrelenting vision and belief in the possibility of transforming the world into a better place. This is not to say I’m blind to her foibles or anyone elses’ by the way. That said, in the face of the murder of her husband at her side and the kidnapping (and later happy reuniting with her daughter Kyoko) Yoko Ono remained steadfast in her belief in imagining peace despite the circumstances. She chose the power of life over and over. She could have retreated, no one would have blamed her, taken her money and lived a quiet life, but no.
She made music and art, demanded people come together for peace and is now calling for “No Fracking” and at last, the tide has turned. Lady Gaga is on stage with her and the kudos come pouring in.
My family and I went to Iceland a few years ago for the lighting of the John Lennon Peace Tower on a small island 20 minutes out in the ocean off Reykjavik. In the freezing and I mean freezing cold, with a chorus of little kids singing Imagine, Yoko flipped a switch and this magnificent marble tower with the words Imagine engraved in 80 languages sent a light beam burning up into the heavens. I’m sobbing and so is everyone, who else besides Yoko Ono would’ve done this? Only this woman would’ve created this.
On the day of her birthday she was performing in Europe , then returned to her home overlooking Strawberry Fields. All I could think about was that I hope and pray that when I’m 80 I’ll have the energy, the commitment, the health and the piece of mind to keep my eye on the ball the way she does. Where is that eye? I think Yoko is unwavering in her desire to make the world a better place, to love one another, to express it, to envision it together and of course, to give peace a chance.
In my opinion, she opened a world to John Lennon that allowed him to discover the better man within, the better father and husband and ultimately the more expressive. It’s tough for some people to accept it was the door Yoko Ono opened for him that allowed him to walk through it and find a quieter more authentic place within himself.
In this great drama of life we are living in, Yoko Ono has been on the world stage in a particular role holding a dream. She is 80 years old. I hope and pray she has at least twenty more years of good health and joy to continue her work inspiring and showing me the possibilities , pushing me to think outside the box that much more.
With my family outside the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice, Italy we sat beneath the Imagine tree filled with Yoko’s white wishing cards, people can write their wishes and hang them onto branches. I told my boys, here is another one of Yoko’s projects – make a wish, write it and hang it on the tree.
I continue to Imagine your long and magnificent life, Yoko, thank you for sharing it with all of us.