Entries Posted in "July 2009"

Finishing Well
July 8, 2009

In all my years of writing, one thing I've learned is never to comment on current events--in conversation or on paper--when they are current. It seems counter-intuitive, but usually when something is at the forefront of the media, emotions run high, people get overly-sensitive and the whole effort of holding a normal discussion on an event becomes exhausting and counterproductive. I like to wait until the air clears and reflect with a bit more perspective than can often be afforded by the media blitz, humanistic commentary, and somber-yet-loyal allegiance and angst that is often present when death of any kind is present on a world-wide scale. Emotion can sometimes be an untrustworthy measuring rod for reality. For most human beings our knee-jerk reaction and response to life in general is based on our emotions. Logic usually comes second. I believe maturity can be found in striking the balance between truth, rationalism and emotion. Emotions are no small thing. They are God-given senses that allow us to feel, grieve, mourn and level with our own humanity. Emotions allow us to reminisce, recollect, and even revel in the moments that make up our life.

Over the last few weeks, America lost a few of its idols. Some were better known than others. A few seemingly existed in the realm we often place celebrity - immortality. Any shock, dismay, or horror we find ourselves in at the news of celebrity death can usually be chalked up to the reality that many of us mistakenly deemed these "idols" to be above the law and good old fashioned mortality. Though celebrity and death have always walked hand in hand, it never ceases to amaze me how much anguish it causes the masses to see one of the mighty ones fall. For the record, I don't believe any one person's life is greater than another. Whether a person's influence is worldwide or only known in the womb, the death of a human being big or little is something on which to ponder for its intrinsic significance in the scope of eternity.

Though no one life is greater than another, the death of Michael Jackson in particular is one I think many of us won't soon forget. Not necessarily for the person himself but rather for the response of the world. As a musical talent, the Jackson legacy has so shaped and rocked the music and entertainment industry that many question if there will ever be another individual on the planet with such genius and wide-reaching influence. In that instance, I think the better question we should be asking is, "Even if there were a person who could fill that void, I wonder if they've already been 'aborted' on the altar of 'choice'?" When people can comfortably make statements that begin with the words "There will never be..." I think it's a scathing commentary on how much talent and genius this world is missing out on and likely exactly what the likes of Margaret Sanger and Charles Darwin always intended. For many reasons, Michael Jackson's death takes the discussion on human potential to an entirely different realm.

Hate him or love him, for many of us, Michael Jackson's music is attached to memories and time. I'm not old enough to have witnessed the Jackson 5 in their heyday, but my parents were big Motown fans so I know all the lyrics to all their songs as if the album were released yesterday. As a kid I remember watching Jackson moonwalk across the stage and turn out choreography no eye had ever seen. I remember "Bad" and "Beat It" and being scared half to death by the "Thriller" video. As I came into my teenage years I recall staying up late to watch the prime-time television premiere of the latest Michael Jackson video. Rarely did it disappoint. In my adulthood, I relish in the fact that all the Michael Jackson classics were relied upon to pack out the dance floor at our lavish wedding reception. We rocked the night away to the tunes and melodies of a man who knew how to ride the beat like no other. In the most ethereal way, I so loved and appreciated the music of Michael Jackson and the perceived timelessness of what he did on wax. If only human beings were judged in one dimension. Maybe then we'd all go to heaven now wouldn't we?

One of the marks of American culture is this strange time old tradition that has caused people to find it rude, crude and taboo to speak the truth about the totality of a person's life once they are dead. When people say, "Don't speak ill of the dead," it makes my stomach turn. Whose rule is this and where exactly did it come from? Because quite frankly, it makes no sense. The entire incentive and purpose of living life properly and with integrity is that we all might feel some level of accountability to the legacy we will leave on the earth. It is naive and dense of us to believe that some type of magical wand gets waived at the time of death and all our wrongs, sins, and grievances get washed away -- or rather filled up -- by embalming fluid. When we silently excuse certain behavior all for the sake of someone's "awesome talent," or to preserve a positive memory, we chip away at the God-given conscience in every human being to make the right decisions now so that when we reach the finish line, the final judgment on our life is, "well done."

On so many levels, I have some grave issues with the earthly legacy left by many a celebrity. Great talent is not the full measure of a person's worth and Michael Jackson is no different. No matter how much I loved and appreciated what he did on the microphone, there are other dimensions to this story that cannot be ignored. In short, by all human observations, Michael did not finish well. So much so that it is difficult to figure out what aspect of his death is more tragic.

  • The fact that his "children" will live without their father. Whatever some peoples' argument is around Jackson's paternity, for all intents and purposes, those are his children. Whether in biology or theory, they believe he is their father and that is all that counts right now.
  • The fact that someone so gifted was so tormented and confused in their own identity. The fact that he didn't have to die so young.
  • The fact that all his amazing accomplishments on earth may or may not even have eternal value.
  • The fact that he died broker than he'd ever been.
  • The fact that peace did not seem to be an existence with which Jackson ever lived, let alone flirted with.
  • The fact that beyond buyouts, there has yet to be any type of real resolution on some strangely perverted behavior. Memo to the "Rev." Al Sharpton who asserted at Jackson's memorial, "Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy.": Lay down that crack pipe, sir. You are talking about the same man who readily admitted in countless interviews to sharing his bed with underage children and thought nothing of it. That my friend is not normal. I understand wanting to paint someone in a positive light, but let's not lose the good sense God gave us in the process.
Like many of us, I believe Michael Jackson needed healing and it doesn't appear that he ever chose to receive the help he needed to live life redemptively. In so many ways it is utterly and terribly tragic.

I think the death of anyone--public figure or average joe--provides us all with an opportunity for self-evaluation and critical reflection. Life, legacy, and integrity should always come before a person's "giftedness." How a person finishes is just as important as the process. There are many public figures who've left carnage after death. Many of our history books now divulge some of the sordid pasts and truths of many of the same individuals once heralded as exemplar in their generation. As time has crept on, we've even learned that many of the philosophers, musicians, athletes, ministers, and politicians we once loved weren't exactly the heroes they cracked up to be. It doesn't matter how we try to spin it. Recalling another recent celebrity death -- If the world's final memory of a person is that they were caught in an adulterous relationship and murdered by their mistress, that should be a lesson to someone else in a similar predicament to clean up their own life. That right there is a pretty crappy way to finish.

While many would say flawed heroism is par for the course, I think we should aim higher, don't you? It is possible to leave this earth with a great up legacy, a rich heritage, and a clean name. When people pass away, we need to tell the truth about them for better or worse. What is the pain in saying, "Hey, this person led a troubled life and made some bad decisions...but that doesn't have to be how your story ends too." The dead are dead. We mourn them, we appreciate them, and we reflect on what they had to offer the world, but sadly, they are no longer here. Their time is up. There are no do overs on life. The question of the hour is how now shall the living live?

When all is said and done, how will the pages of your life read? I for one, want to finish well. I pray people will shake off their grief and do the same.

Posted by Ambra in Current Events, Pop Culture | Link to This Entry | Comments { 5 }
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