It was just by coincidence that I became acquainted with Michael Jackson. It was 1983 and my wife, Flora, was pregnant with our first child. Frequently, we ate at a vegetarian restaurant called The Golden Temple. Generally we went during the hours between lunch and dinner. There were few other customers during that time period, but there was one other regular: Michael Jackson. He had recently become a vegetarian, and he was fascinated to follow the progress of a vegetarian pregnancy. When our son, Elijah, was born in June, Michael was excited to see him. Once he asked me what it was like to be a father, and he told me that that was what he wanted most of all in life: to have a child of his own to take care of. Even then, there was something poignant about this man who had not been allowed to be a normal child himself wanting to be a father.
On February 18, 1984, when Elijah was eight months old, we took him to The Golden Temple. There were no others customers except Michael and his 13-year-old friend, Emmanuel Lewis, who was known to the world as "Webster." Michael said that he wished he had a camera because he wanted his picture taken with Elijah. My wife had a camera in her bag, but no film. Michael suggested that she could get some film at a nearby drugstore and asked if he and Emmanuel could take care of Elijah while we waited. When Flora returned, Michael suggested various poses and she snapped a number of photos of Elijah with Michael and Emmanuel. Michael asked for copies of the prints when they were developed.
Each of the photos turned out to be of interest, but there was one, of Michael holding Elijah in his arms, that stood out. Looking at it today, 25 years later, and seeing Michael's bright look and clear smile, I can't help but feel sad. He looked healthy, happy and untroubled. His album Thriller had caused a sensation. "Beat It" had been released only four days earlier. And ten days after that afternoon at The Golden Temple, he won eight Grammy Awards. When we next saw him at the restaurant just after his night of triumph, he was beaming, but he also seemed a bit embarrassed by his success.
I got a lot of mileage out of that photo of Michael Jackson and Elijah. Whenever I traveled, I brought with a packet of family photos. The Michael and Elijah photo was the last in the set, and when people got to it, they were usually stunned. Wherever I went, China, Russia, Burma, Tahiti, everyone recognized Michael Jackson. I have to admit that, as a journalist, I used it to put people at ease when I wanted to interview them.
As the years passed, Michael Jackson looked less and less like the Michael in the photo. His skin color changed; the shape of his nose and face changed; and that look of happiness and contentment disappeared.
Now that he is gone, I want to share that photo of Michael Jackson, from a time when he appeared to be at peace with himself and with the world. This is the way I want to remember him.
Cross-posted at AllGov.com
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