It was one of those events that people will be asking about for years to come: "Where were you when the King of Pop died?"
One year ago, Michael Jackson's death shocked the world. Countless people around the globe continue to share their thoughts and feelings about what his life and death have meant to them. Now we're seeing news stories marking the anniversary, revealing the latest about the circumstances of his death, the growth of his financial estate, and the status of the children he left behind.
I grew up with Michael Jackson's music. I was only four years older than he was, so I followed his career virtually my whole life. After all, if you owned a radio or TV during those years, there's no way you could have avoided him. I remember being introduced to him on the Ed Sullivan Show as part of the Jackson 5, whose fresh, upbeat sound made for instant and wild success. I remember being lifted by his popular songs of the early '80s -- and now I can't hear songs like "Rock with You" without recalling those early mornings during seminary when my clock radio alarm went off to the sounds of Top 40 radio. And I remember following the troubling news stories about all the various accusations, court cases, plastic surgeries, and odd behaviors in more recent years.
His comeback concerts, which had been scheduled to begin last July, had so much riding on them: His reputation for musical brilliance was at stake, and so apparently was his financial future. Reportedly his health had in later years been precarious, and adding that immense burden couldn't have been easy.
But let's look beyond all that. What was it about Michael Jackson that has caused such an outpouring of emotion in the months -- now a full year -- following his death?
Obviously, his immense talent is one major reason. But on a much deeper level, he possessed a vulnerability and a childlike quality that caused many people to care personally about him -- despite all his issues. His peculiar actions, his efforts to change his appearance, his legal and financial troubles: all of it caused us to feel sorry for this young man who never seemed to grow up. In the end his childlike wonder became, to one degree or another, pathological.
Through his whole life we sensed what Deepak Chopra described on the Huffington Post, just after Jackson's death, as the "mixture of mystery, isolation, indulgence, overwhelming global fame, and personal loneliness" that marked his life. Apparently Jackson sought meaning in life through faith in a variety of expressions -- but how fruitful that search was for him we will likely never know. Recently Rabbi Shmuley Boteach echoed this sorrowful frustration over Jackson's life and death in a moving post as well.
Even so, let's take this opportunity to honor and celebrate Michael Jackson's creative exuberance. He sang about love, peace, joy, and hope, about siblinghood, about togetherness (and, okay, sometimes about zombies). Let's hope the positive, visionary message that he shared with the world through his music will continue to be heard in fresh and compelling ways.
Once again, we realize that the messenger is but a clay vessel that can be broken, but the message? Well, if the song is to continue, the rest of us will have to sing it.
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