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Jane “Nightbirde” Marczewski passed away yesterday at the age of 31

Most of us would find her name familiar but if you are anything like me, you wouldn’t have followed her after her meteoric rise to fame last year during a performance at singing reality show America’s Got Talent (AGT).

Yet when the story of her death from cancer popped up on my feed this morning, it gave me pause.

Amidst all the negative news – of Russian shenanigans in Ukraine affecting global markets, to environmental concerns with warming temperatures giving rise to extreme weather events, to issues closer to home – against the constant backdrop of Covid, her story stood out for me.

I’m not entirely sure why. It’s another drop of sadness in a barrel full of sorrow. Why did I decide that I had to write something about it?

Unlike Off-White fashion designer Virgil Abloh, whom I wrote about last year, Jane’s fight with cancer is well-documented.

It’s okay to be a little lost

Nightbirde Death
Image source: YouTube

Those who know me know that I don’t really enjoy talent shows. Disappointed idealist that I am, I often suspect that some if not many of the breakout acts that come from these shows are engineered for success – winners and losers selected to create a narrative to draw viewers in with maximum drama.

Yet even my cynicism took a backseat last year when a friend of mine sent me a short YouTube video of Jane, or Nightbirde, as she calls herself, performing on AGT.

Within a span of seven minutes, she managed to tell her story to the world, of her battle with cancer, while maintaining a cheerful demeanour that wasn’t fake or put on.

It wasn’t stoicism or toxic positivity. It was a kind of joy that you only see in someone who has made peace with who they are and have decided to cherish each day they have.

Her self-penned song, It’s Okay, was simple yet moving.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” she sang, “If you’re lost. We’re all a little lost and it’s alright.”

It was the perfect anthem to describe what many of us were going through (and still going through!) during the pandemic. And we loved her for it.

That clip that you’ve just watched hit 39.5 million views on YouTube and I suspect that with her passing, that number will increase.

“You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”

I think what Jane said after her performance would speak to many of us, especially during this pandemic, when we are faced with many challenges, some of us more than most.

When tragedy becomes personal

 

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A post shared by Nightbirde ⚡️ (@_nightbirde)

Some of us might be familiar with a quote commonly (mis)attributed to Soviet WWII leader Josef Stalin: “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

That line, often used in a satirical manner, is meant to highlight the cruelty of man and the inherent wastefulness of war.

Yet the line rings true perhaps because there is an element of truth in it.

Did you know that as of today, Feb 22, 2022, there have been 423 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and almost 5.9 million deaths worldwide? I didn’t. I had to Google that. I knew the number was large, but I don’t keep a day-to-day track of it. In Singapore, the numbers are 596,261 cases and 952 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Yet life goes on. Part of the endemic pandemic, we say. For example, more couples are getting married today, one of them a dear friend of mine (even as I write this!).

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We care about people and things that mean something to us. It’s not being selfish; our capacity to love is limited – by time, by resources, by energy, by ability, by opportunity – so we prioritise.

I only pay as much attention as I must to ARTs and Covid protocols, but when my daughter got Covid two weeks ago, my world shrank to worrying about her – everything else could wait.

People with greater capacity to love, love more; those with less, love less. But we all care for something, even if that something is ourselves. If you find that you can’t even muster the energy to care for yourself, please talk to someone.

America's Got Talent Nightbirde Death
Image source: YouTube

So why should I care about a singer whom I haven’t thought about aside from that day in 2021 when she lifted my heart with a 2-minute song?

Perhaps it is precisely because of that.

In that moment, Jane simultaneously consoled me for my failures in life while encouraging me to be better. To aim higher than just who I am right now.

That it’s okay to fail (some A-level students may find this comforting right now); it’s okay not to get what we want; it’s okay to realise that we’ve lied to ourselves about who we are and what we need; and that’s it’s okay not to know exactly where we are going.

We all battle imposter syndrome to a certain degree. Even the most confident people have crises of faith at times. It is part of the growing process. Don’t believe everything you see on social media. We all struggle. We just don’t show it to everyone, not all the time.

Jane reminds us that it’s alright to be lost sometimes.

 

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A post shared by Nightbirde ⚡️ (@_nightbirde)

This was her last post on her Instagram. Scroll through her other posts and you’d see a person who is living her fullest life.

One of her posts, set against a simple black background, says defiantly: “Some people will call it blind denial, but I prefer to call it REBELLIOUS HOPE.”

I like that.

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Jane found her path. And that path, although tragically shortened, by all accounts brought her joy and peace, and touched the lives of many.

That is a legacy worth leaving.

What about you?

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, if you’re lost. We’re all a little lost and it’s alright.”

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Top Image: Instagram/_nightbirde