Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson Memorial: My Thoughts

"We will never, ever understand what he endured, not being able to walk down the street without a crowd gathering around him, being judged, ridiculed... How much pain can one take? Maybe now, Michael, they will leave you alone..."
-Marlon Jackson, Michael Jackson's brother

Watching today's Michael Jackson memorial, it wasn't Michael Jackson that I felt sorry for, it was the people that are so fast to ridicule him, so fast to condemn him, and so fast to play judge, jury and executioner, despite the fact that so much of what they think they know is rooted in speculation.

I feel sorry for those people, because most of them will never know the pleasure that Michael Jackson brought the world. I feel sorry for those people because they are too scared to feel anything but anger and shame. They don't know the joy that springs to life in a catalog of recordings that spans more than five decades. They know only that it is easier to mock what they don't understand.

But isn't that the world that we live in? If we took the time to understand, there wouldn't be war. Even worse, if we took the time to try and understand, we might come to the hard realization that we can't all be right all the time, and that the world we live in isn't black and white.

And if the world isn't black or white, where do we fit in?

Michael Jackson wanted the world to know that you didn't need to fit in, and that it didn't matter whether you were black or white. Michael Jackson created a world that was colorblind. Not because the world really was colorblind, but because he taught us to be colorblind.

He helped us realize that the world could be colorblind, which is half the battle.

"Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square, in Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Birmingham, England, we are missing Michael Jackson," said Queen Latifah, the first speaker of the morning's memorial. "But we do know we had him. And we are the world."

Michael Jackson touched our world. And by touching the world, he made it a better place.

"When Michael started it was a different world, but because Michael kept going, because he didn't accept limitations, because he refused to let people decide his boundaries, he opened up the whole world," rang the Reverend Al Sharpton with a rhythmic flow following a breathtaking performance of "Will You Be There" by Jennifer Hudson. "It was Michael Jackson that brought blacks and whites and Asians and Latinos together. It was Michael Jackson that made us sing 'We Are The World' and feed the hungry long before Live Aid... He created a comfort level where people who felt they were separate were interconnected with his music...

"Michael made us love each other. Michael taught us to stand with each other. There are those that like to dig around mess. But millions around the world, we're going to uphold his message. It's not about mess, it's about his love message. As you climb up steep mountains, sometimes you scar your knee. Sometimes you break the skin. But don't focus on the scars, focus on the journey. Michael beat 'em. Michael rose to the top. He outsang his cynics. He outdanced his doubters. He outperformed the pessimists. Every time he got knocked down, he got back up. Every time you counted him out, he came back in. Michael never stopped!

"...Some came today to say goodbye to Michael. I came to say thank you. Thank you because you never stopped. Thank you because you never gave up. Thank you because you tore down our divisions. Thank you because you eradicated failure. Thank you because you gave us hope!"

And thank you for creating music that gave so many of us the spirit to keep on going. Music that lifted us up when we were down. Music that brought us solace when we felt alone. Music that brought us together when we were apart. And music that made us realize we weren't alone.

It's easy to make fun of Michael Jackson. He's different. He wasn't like you or me. And he didn't try to be. He was a human being, and while he knew that he wasn't perfect, he embraced his differences because he knew that the could make a change.

Even if that change was only made one person at a time.

As John Mayer laid into the delicate intricacies of "Human Nature," the five strings of his guitar replacing the poetic palate of Michael Jackson's warm vocals, I didn't understand his placement amidst the memorial. But once I reflected on the nuances of his appearance, it made so much more sense...

Appearing on Larry King Live early this evening, he said that he was performing not just for himself, but for all of his fans. Standing on the Staples Center stage, John Mayer wasn't telling a story about who Michael Jackson was to him as person, he was relaying who Michael Jackson was to him as an artist. And Michael Jackson means that same thing to all of us that love his music.

We are enchanted by his ability to capture that brilliant spark that made us all feel so human, and translate it into the most beautiful of music.

Music that was transcendent, and music that made us smile. Just like Brooke Shields smiled as she told stories about her friendship with Michael, and the laughter they shared. "Although our hearts are aching, we need to look up, where he is undoubtedly perched in the crescent moon, and we need to smile," she said.

And then Jermaine Jackson performed Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," his brother's favorite song. It was a song that rang true to Michael Jackson's heart, but did anyone ever ask themselves why?

Because even Michael Jackson needed to smile. Michael was only human, just like the rest of us.

It's easy to forget that he's not a sideshow, he's a man. He's a brother. He's a son. And he's a father. And while a cynical segment of America mocks his loss, all his family can do is mourn.

When Michael's 11-year-old daughter stepped in front of Janet Jackson to make a comment at the close of the ceremony, she not only touched the world, she melted its heart.

"Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," said Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, trying to choke back tears that couldn't be contained. "And I just want to say I love him so much!"

Michael Jackson may have touched our hearts with his music, but his spirit, love and passion lived in the hearts of his family and friends.

The world may have lost an icon, but the Jackson 5 have been reduced to four. Katherine and Joseph Jackson have outlived their son. And the three Jackson children have lost their parent.

While there are a lot of people who deserve our sorrow, as his fans, we deserve it the least.

Michael's message and music will endure for as long as we keep it alive. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, let's be thankful for the gift he gave us, and send a special prayer for the people who knew of him as more than just an icon. The people that lost a family member, a parent, and a friend.

And, yes, take a moment to pray for the people who don't know what they've lost. They are the ones that might need it the most.

In my darkest hour, in my deepest despair
Will you still care, will you be there
In my trials and my tribulations
Through our doubts and frustrations
In my violence, in my turbulence
Through my fear and my confessions
In my anguish, in my pains
through my joy, and my sorrow
In the promise of another tomorrow
I'll never let you part
for you're always in my heart

-"Will You Be There" (Michael Jackson)

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