Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I have been moved more than I thought possible by this last two and a half hours of remembrance of the life of Michael Joseph Jackson. It has been an elegant ourpouring of emotion and love, celebration and grief from the family and friends of this remarkable man. I was doing just fine until Jermaine sang Michael’s favorite song, “Smile,” from the Charlie Chaplin film, Modern Times, but when he choked up, I felt the tears. He wasn’t the only one who was choked with emotion. A very emotional Brooke Shields gave a very tender personal tribute, clearly remembering not a celebrity but a very, very dear friend and confidant. Her sense of personal loss was poignantly clear. She painted a picture of a boyish person who laughed and loved life and saw the good in the world. She clearly knew the man and the boy behind the legendary fame and reminded us that no matter how the world saw him, he was just a person. Thank you for that, Brooke.

Michael’s brothers all wore yellow ties and sported a single spangled glove on their left hands. A Gospel choir sang Michael in with a solemnly fitting “Going to See the King,” and provided subdued and appropriate backup to a number of performances. Maya Angelou wrote a very fitting poem and Stevie Wonder composed a blues piece which he sang with a slightly wavering voice. These people made their tributes to Michael in the venue they know best – and they did it with elegance, dignity, and respect. Magic Johnson spoke of fried chicken and Berry Gordy talked about Michael as a father would. Even the Reverend Al Sharpton spoke with grace and without an obvious political agenda about Michael’s contributions to black society and the world. The musical tributes were more subdued than I expected, and included new arrangements of several of MJ’s works – like John Mayer’s rendition of “Human Nature,” in which the electric guitar took the part of Michael’s sweetly pitched vocal line. Unexpected, and I believe it would have pleased Michael greatly.

The sweetest, most touching, and most tragic tribute came at the very end of the memorial when his beautiful daughter Paris spoke just a few words to let the world know that he was the best daddy in the world and that she misses him very much. Janet gathered her into her arms and comforted her as she burst into tears. Such a strong little girl in such a grown-up world. Her fragile little heart was shattered, and that grieves me most of all.

The most fascinating and important tributes, however, had nothing to do with Michael Jackson himself, oddly enough, and I can’t seem to shake the impact they must have had around the world. I heard the name of Jesus spoken or sung frequently throughout this service, and maybe that’s why God took this broken and resilient genius at this time in his life. This service glorified Michael Jackson, yes, but it also glorified the God and Father Who gave Michael the drive to be a humanitarian and a caring soul. God, and His Son Jesus were glorified through the words of the Gospel pieces, Lionel Richie’s song and in the words of Jermaine Jackson, among others, and that makes me very, very happy. There was meaning in his death, after all.

“There’s nothing that can’t be done if we raise our voice as one.”

--Michael Joseph Jackson, 1958-2009

Amen, Michael. Amen. Rest in peace, and may God bless you.



“It feels good to be thought of as a person, not a personality.”

-- Michael Joseph Jackson, 1958-2009

I'm of two minds about the public memorial service for Michael Jackson. MSNBC keeps talking about how it's getting close to "showtime" and that there are performers, including (possibly) members of his own family, which makes it feel sordid instead of respectful and reverent - but is that my own prejudice speaking out? Who am I to put a restriction on anyone else's expression of grief? I simply pray that it will be a celebration of the life of a remarkable, if tortured, man and that it will be respectful and sincere rather than self-aggrandizing. I pray that tributes will be tributes and not self-promotion. I think I’d like to see folks singing his music rather than their own.

One of our librarians put it well when she called it a "cultural event,” which is how the media is viewing it as well. They're so fascinated by all the celebrities who will be attending/performing, and quantifying the number (30) and type (5 Rolls Royces) of vehicles in the motorcade as if an ostentatious display of wealth indicates a greater outpouring of love than 7 guys going to their best friend’s funeral crammed into a ’78 Olds because they don’t have gas money.

I guess it’s the spectators on the street and those watching by TV that interest me the most – our voyeuristic society at its worst and best. Are they truly there to be a peripheral part of a mourning public? Have they fallen prey to a false sense of grief brought on by the iconic celebrity status of the deceased? Are they there to be part of a global event? Are they there to watch grief and catch a glimpse of celebrity? Do they really care, or are they caught up in a mob mentality?

I can’t fault folks who simply want to be a part of a truly global event, myself included. There is an internal drive in all humanity which longs to be part of something greater than ourselves, and this international phenomenon will certainly unite countless individuals around the world even if it’s just for a brief moment. That is a powerful desire in our spirits, to be sure.

So I will be one with my world and take part in an event that is larger than myself.

I applaud the very classy Elizabeth Taylor who will not be attending Michael Jackson’s public memorial, stating, "I just don't believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others. How I feel is between us. Not a public event." Bravo, Ms. Taylor.