Tuesday, June 30, 2009
A tortured life cut short--A reflection on Michael Jackson's tragic life
I used to draw crowds doing the moon- walk. Granted, I was five years old and the crowd was my friends and family. And my moon walk, well, let’s just say that white boys can’t dance—at least not this white boy. I can remember watching the Thriller video at my neighbor’s house and then asking my kindergarten teacher every single day if she’d play Thriller during the “magic carpet” hour. I was always disappointed when we got the Letter People instead.
Until I was at least 8 years old, Michael Jackson wasn’t just another pop star. He was a larger than life icon, the coolest guy on the planet that every little boy wanted to emulate. By the time I was 15, Jackson was already becoming a laughing stock, with his bleached skin, child molestation allegations, and the Oprah interview where he tried to convince the world that his white skin was the result of a skin disease. It was all down hill from there. For the rest of his life, Jackson tried to regain his glory days, but he never quite got there. Then last weekend, it all ended. Jackson died a tortured soul.
Those of us that remember the height of Michael Jackson’s glory—indeed he is already being called the Elvis of our generation—I think it would do us well to take a moment and reflect on how a man that achieved such spectacular success in his lifetime could delve to such depths of misery in his inner life. How could a man such as Michael Jackson be so miserable that he had to build an amusement park, bleach his skin, distort his facial features, pump his body full of pain killers, and who knows what else he did to himself that led to his early death? What can we learn from the tragedy of Michael Jackson?
Perhaps it’s best to hear from the man himself. In an interview with his former spiritual advisor Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, Michael had this to say about his life:
"I am going to say something I have never said before and this is the truth. I have no reason to lie to you and God knows I am telling the truth. I think all my success and fame, and I have wanted it, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That's all. That's the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved. I said I know I have an ability. Maybe if I sharpened my craft, maybe people will love me more. I just wanted to be loved because I think it is very important to be loved and to tell people that you love them and to look in their eyes and say it."
It’s difficult to read these words without feeling pity on a soul so troubled and alone. On the other hand, it’s easy to cast the blame for Jackson’s soul-emptiness on his abusive father and unusual childhood. From the time Jackson was born, his entire life was based on having to perform to be loved. Although Jackson was adored by millions, the love that his fans gave him was based on his ability to sing and dance and entertain, not based on any intrinsic value in the man himself. It’s not that Michael Jackson wasn’t loved in his life. It’s that his experience of love was largely the kind with strings attached. If we listen to Michael’s words carefully, we’ll hear the words of a man longing for unconditional love.
My parents were by no means perfect, but I always knew that their love for me was not based on academic performance, musical talent, athletic experience, or even good behavior. I knew that they loved me because I was their son. More importantly, they raised me in a Christian church that taught me that I had a Father in heaven that loved me unconditionally. I knew that in some mysterious way, the meaning of Jesus dying on the cross had to do with the fact that God’s love for me had nothing to do with any kind of performance on my part. Knowing that was an anchor for me then, and it still is for me today.
As a Christian, when I look at Michael Jackson’s life, I wonder how it might have turned out if Jackson had come to know the God that I have always known. How might his life had turned out if Jackson would have realized that there’s a God up in heaven that loved him as he was, not as he should have been. Millions of people around the world have had terrible upbringings, but have found a spiritual anchor in the God of the Bible nonetheless. My prayer is that millions more will find the same love after reflecting on the tragedy of Michael Jackson’s death. One tortured life cut short is one too many.