I remember a Harvard Lampoon edition of the New York Post back during the cold war. At the top of the page, ½-inch letters proclaimed the headline: "Russia drops the Big One -- World War III Declared". Right below the enormous NY Post-style 6''-wide banner was the headline "MICHAEL JACKSON DIES". It was funny then, but it is not so funny now that he has, in fact, like Elvis before him, become a force of history. I am reminded of the Lampoon as I watch the round-the-clock all-channel coverage following Michael Jackson's death. It seems to me he is getting more airtime than Sammy Davis, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra all put together. Who else could have pushed the Iranian election crisis to the back burner?
I confess I am of a different generation than the Michael Jackson phenomenon. I have never been to a concert, have not seen most of his famous music videos and appearances, and remain a bit perplexed about the hubbub surrounding his demise. I am learning more about him and his extraordinary career now from posthumous coverage of his accomplishments and am beginning to appreciate his fame and contributions to music and dance. I am sorry to hear of anyone dying so young and am sympathetic toward his family and those who knew and loved him.
His death and the groundswell of emotion I am observing have me thinking about the legacy one may leave.To be sure, few will ever touch as many lives as this man has touched. But all of us leave some tracks of our having lived -- and we are all remembered by those who care about us. I am left with two questions.
Who will carry our voice -- our 'song' -- in their heads after we pass on? And what is the quality that has us be valued both during our lives and beyond?
My answer is that when a man or a woman gives himself or herself to the world -- that is, when they are committed to be of service (which was clearly the case of Michael Jackson for his entire life) -- then people respond with gratitude and love. It doesn't matter whether a person is an entertainer or a carpenter, a retiree or a teacher, an athlete or a corporate manager. It only matters where a person is coming from in their work and in their lives. To leave a legacy means to be remembered, to have others recognize that you or I passed this way and left something of lasting value.
Michael Jackson left a lot of lasting value. But perhaps his most important gift was that he allowed so many people to love him, to find in their sense of wonder and delight a bit of their own magic.
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