Friday, June 26, 2009

Wrapped in life

Yesterday, I’m watching hour after hour of Michael Jackson news coverage and I’m listening to reporters ask people to sum up their experiences with MJ or thoughts of his music in snappy sound bites. Can you do that for a life like his?

Maybe it’s because I just finished writing the synopsis for my latest novel, that the whole wrap up thing seemed so glaring to me yesterday. I know what my story’s about – all the pieces in the plot, who does what and why. But it’s such a struggle to squeeze 400 pages into two. Yet we do it. In fact, we authors manage to scrunch an entire novel into a single 10-second pitch line that makes the story easy-to-grasp for potential readers.

So, I sit back from the news coverage and get to thinking about my pitch line for life with Michael Jackson and landed on “Got to be There.” From the time I was small, I’ve regarded that tune and its lyrics with starry-eyed wonder. The idea of needing someone’s nearness is not unique; people sing about that stuff all the time. But it’s the way Michael sang it. And beyond the throes of love, “Got To Be There” epitomizes the way I view life as a whole. I hate the thought of missing out on experiences and interactions or opportunities to dream and grow. I want to be here to take it all in.

All of it. Always. As in forever.

Now, we know that isn’t possible, is it? That’s where my deep-seated denial comes in. I shudder when I hear phrases like “tomorrow’s not promised” or “the present is a gift.” I know they are so true, but the implication – well, the reality – is that they mean one day there won’t be a next day. No more phone calls to the kids/grandkids/great-grandkids. No chit-chat with friends and family. No treks to the store or church. No volunteering. No news. No flower garden. No sunshine or rain. Heaven, I do pray, but none of the little things that make this world what it is.

Maybe 50 years from now I’ll be tired and I’ll be ready for thoughts of final rest. But not today. So, this morning when I awoke and confirmed that Michael Jackson really had passed on, I had to wonder if he was ready. Did the King of Pop have a clue yesterday morning that there would be no more music after that day?

I wrote a poem about my grandmother some years ago; about how three days before she died, a cousin said he saw her dancing in the kitchen. Laughing, free, really enjoying herself. Mind you, Grandma Mary was saved and sanctified and she absolutely did not dance. But after we heard that story, we thought maybe she knew death was on its way and she was ready. I compared it to “trying out her wings-to-be.” The idea that she was ready for the trip brought comfort in the aftermath of her sudden and difficult departure.

Michael’s death brings a familiar though not familial sadness. I never thought about the King of Pop not being here. My “got to be there” assumption was that he’d always be here. But none of us get to stay on the charts forever.

Now I am left with the startling reality of a life not too many years younger than Mike’s. I reflect on reports that say his children are inconsolable. I consider my kids. I reflect on reports that say he was in ill health. I consider my own health. I reflect on his genius, how his gift changed the world. I consider my own dreams. I reflect on how the world changed him. And I consider the good and bad of this life we live.

While I’d rather not think about it, there’s no sense missing the reminder in all this that we get many moments, yet just one life.

I am really going to miss Michael Jackson. Every news clip I’ve heard that attempts to edit his life into a tidy sound bite has represented a different perspective of his world. Between spliced chunks of stowed-away quotes, studio moments, laughter and sadness, illumination spills forth in smiles and silences. As much as I’ve enjoyed trying to sum up my own MJ memories, I can no more easily pare his life into 25 words than I can my novels. I’m no MJ, but I hope my life won’t fit within the confines of a nice, neat sound bite bow either. I’ll take that as evidence that I was there for my life.

Peace to you and yours, Michael.

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