This weekend saw one of those poignant front-page contrasts of emergent triumph and final tragedy that leaves fans of sports and music with exuberant joy and deep sorrow. On one day the tabloids are emblazoned with images of a young relatively unknown sports talent making an incredible jump shot while on the next the image is one of a nondescript coroners van exiting a hotel with the body of a singing legend. Sports and song reaches a chord in the hearts of diverse people in ways few other human endeavors do. Americans as a competitive lot, for sure, appreciate witnessing those who reach the pinnacle of achievement across a range of fields. However, there is a raw emotional connection that many of us have with our most graceful, talented and beloved singers and athletes. This connection of both uniting and captivating hearts across racial, economic, gender, and age lines make such talent symbols not only to the groups that proudly lay claim to their origins, but to all capable of being touched by them.
Such is the case this weekend with 23-year-old hoops sensation Jeremy Lin. He is the first U.S. born Chinese-American N.B.A. player and the first player of any race to ever to score at least 20 points and seven assists in his first four starts in the majors, including 38 dazzling points at Madison Square Garden Friday against the legendary 15-12 Los Angeles Lakers in New York. Lin not only dominates news coverage in America, he is a sensation in China and Taiwan, where his family has roots.
Across the continent one day later music lovers were stunned at the heartbreaking loss of Whitney Houston whose dazzling chart success was only surpassed by the depth and range of her powerful, yet angelic voice. Houston too was a trailblazer, going from a New Jersey church choir to seven straight number one songs. Houston is also the only female soloist, black or white, to have two albums to top the year-end charts in two different years. She sold over 170 million records. That these two disparate talents emerged from average beginnings makes their ascension all the more inspirational to the rest of us.
God, or fate, have ways of moving people on and off not only the public spotlight, but out of life itself in a manner that highlights the vulnerability behind the glossy presentation of superstar status. Lin broke stereotypes not only about Asian-American athletes, but Ivy Leaguers and economic majors as well, while sometimes experiencing cruel racial taunts in college play. There is just something so touching about the journey of the son of a five foot six Silicon Valley techie and sports aficionado from a California YMCA to wowing the hometown crowd at the Garden. In contrast, it is equally heartbreaking that the most touching of voices and all the rewards from it, could not somehow protect the all too fragile life that produced it.
Moreover, how could one not be saddened by the heartbreaking irony that the very weekend that one young trailblazing emerging sports talent dazzled, one of the most heavenly voices of a generation was abruptly silenced just as the music industry was set to honor many of those who she inspired. Perhaps the takeaway from all this is that as much as we like to think otherwise, both the people and experiences that touch our hearts can also be the most ephemeral, which can increase not only our sorrow when they are gone, but their unique value when they are here. That is why I'll keep singing "I Love You Just the Way You Are" to my children, even when off key, and take them to ball games even when the hometown team comes up a few points short.