Monday, June 29, 2009

a star has died: some thoughts on Michael Jackson's passing

when i was 10 years old, i worshiped Michael Jackson. the night when the Thriller video first aired, my 5th grade friends and i gathered around my family's big, wood-paneled television to watch it, and we were in awe!

when my own son, Jonah, turned 10, history repeated itself. somehow, Jonah got a hold of a DVD collection of Michael Jackson's videos, and before i knew it, he was worshiping Michael too: moon-walking in the kitchen while singing "Billy Jean in not my lover," and then creating a single, silver glove (from a black-knit glove, glue and silver glitter) which he proudly wore out in public (further proof that he is indeed my son.)

Jonah is now a few short months from turning 14 (as he keeps reminding me) and he was not happy to learn of Michael's passing. together we watched Mtv's Michael Jackson tribute, complete with all the music videos, television performances and concerts Michael was ever in, plus comments of current artists who had something to say about Michael's death. we enjoyed hearing the songs and watching the videos of MJ that we had come to love, but seeing so many wonderful moments from Michael's past, i got to wondering: did Michael create any new songs or videos in the last ten years? when was the last positive, public appearance i'd seen of him? if there were any, i was unaware of them.

the only things in the media that i can recall of Michael in the past decade are negative: accusations of sexual misconduct with children and late-night talk shows making jokes about such; the photograph of him holding his baby over a balcony ledge, and tabloids proclaiming he had a prosthetic nose that was soon to cave-in from too much plastic surgery.

i don't bring all this stuff up to judge or condemn Michael. if anything, my heart is saddened, because i look at Michael's life, which at one point had every pleasure the world can offer: fame, adoring fans, wealth, beautiful women, and then, in a moment, all of that was taken away. all of the hardships Michael endured seemed to change and age him, which makes me think of Jesus' words which said, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?"

the other day a friend told me that something about the public's response to Michael's death had been bothering him, and he couldn't figure out what exactly until he read something that helped define his thoughts, that went something like this:

for many of us, the shining, incredible, show-stopping Michael Jackson that we knew and loved passed-away a long time ago, and the Michael Jackson that just died was a shadow of his former self that with each year grew more faint, until it finally disappeared.

Michael's death brings me back to many of the questions i have had since my husband's father, and then my own, died. they are questions that i ask myself and God about the things in my own life and heart, questions like: do i seek pleasure in selfish or selfless pursuits? what, in my life, actually defines me? who am i apart from my art? do i delight in the company of those i love, or do i seek the approval of others? do i allow God to show me the hard truths to these kinds of questions? do i trust him to show me the way to true wholeness?

i am sure questions like these came to Michael at some point during his life, and i cannot know how he answered them, but in the end, it seems Michael's heart was so sad and burdened that it finally broke, beyond repair. with all the people who have commented on Michael's death, i have yet to hear anyone say, "Michael Jackson lived a fulfilling life and died a happy, contented man" and i think that is a horrible tragedy. hopefully, Michael's death has compelled some people to look into their hearts, into their life's perspective, and maybe chat it over a bit with God.