In the early 1990s, George Michael put out the song, "Freedom 90" which topped the charts and became an instant classic. With lyrics like, "looks like the road to heaven, but it feels like the road to hell," he depicts in song the story of his own personal rise to super-stardom and how it leads to his feeling manipulated, conflicted and misrepresented, until of course, he discovers that he is the only one who is capable of granting himself the freedom he so desires.
In his song, he reflects over his past and describes how some of his actions reluctantly made landmark status in rock-n-roll history. As an experienced, dyed-in-the-wool rock star, he sings, "Some mistakes were built to last."
I remember how insightful those words were, how they made him seem more like a prophet to me than a songwriter.
And "prophet" seemed an appropriate title being that years later he would be involved in an incident that would teach him -- in no uncertain terms -- what lasting mistakes end up looking like. Somehow, in a sweeping blast of publicized infamy, a very talented man with a gorgeous voice turned into someone who would forever be defined by a mistake he made that was not meant for our entertainment, and was certainly none of our business. George Michael's body of work may ascend to the heavens but our unforgiving memory will always make sure he is associated with that which we deemed regrettable -- an episode in a public restroom -- something I'm quite sure Mr. Michael would love to never be reminded of again.
That boulder was certainly built to last.
Same thing with Richard Gere. Great actor, good looking guy, best buds with H.H. The Dalai Lama, peaceful Buddhist dude -- and what else? Something with gerbils up the bum, right? Richard Gere may attain nirvana someday, but in our minds, he'll always be down here with the gerbils.
No wonder Gere practices detachment. If not for spiritual freedom, then certainly to remove himself from us.
And PeeWee Herman. Such a funny guy, right? But that's not all he is to us... no, not anymore. We have to ensure that he'll never be completely let off the hook. His big famous mistake must always be available for our rehashing and his humiliation must always be on call. Hey, he's the one who wanted to be famous, right?
So, in the same way that celebrity status practically invites the judgmental insistence of the public, we must hope that, for the sake of these overly scrutinized human beings, they don't take it too personally.
As it goes with time, eventually it heals all wounds. And if the mistake-maker was beloved enough prior to the deed that got their name scribed on to the wall of infamy, he or she may even be forgiven. Forgiven, but not forgotten. Just look at Bill Clinton.
Furious at you? No. Associating you forever with Monica Lewinsky? Yes.
And while we're judging, let's get some perspective on the whole "mistake" idea. Mistakes are not intentional. Sometimes, people are actually just doing private things that are only called mistakes after an entire world of watchers catches them doing it. Then, they're mistakes. Before they're labeled and spun into stories, versions and imaginative spin-offs, they're just events that happened to human beings. Sometimes those humans are famous, sometimes not.
So, what about us non-famous humans who make mistakes? Who gets to rip us to shreds and never let us forget about it?
Why, our friends, of course!
And... what if our mistakes are less about grievous errors as they are about people who need to find fault in us, simply because -- for some -- finding vulnerable cracks and emotional fissures to pick apart in others is an irresistible guilty pleasure?
Or, perhaps it's as easy as this: Putting people down makes us feel better about ourselves.
Sometimes, it's just easier to see the mistake than to see the person. The mistake makes us feel superior, it's the ticket we use to kid ourselves into thinking we're better than someone else. What threatens us is not so much their mistake, but the idea that they might have benefited from the lesson of it and could actually be less vulnerable than we are. It's a mirror than very few want held to their faces.
What's disconcerting is seeing the numbers of people who seem to be incapable of handling the emotional well-being and growth of others, be they strangers, friends or family. It's as if some people can't be happy unless someone else is sad, or, they can't be whole unless someone else is incomplete.
We've all made mistakes. We either learn from them or we don't, but if we do, and we apply those lessons well, then I think the next step is to cut ourselves some slack, even if others are not as generous in the process. And while we're riding the forgiveness train, we might think of extending that courtesy to others, as well.
In the same way that some mistakes are built to last, we must also believe that some mistakes are built to dissolve -- if we let them.
As George Michael says:
I'll hold on to my freedom
May not be what you want from me
Just the way it's got to be