DIDN'T WE ALMOST HAVE IT ALL?
By now, everyone has heard the sad news of Whitney Houston's passing. And, it really is sad because, one, she was a gigantic talent whose demons led her down a wrong path from which she was unable to divert in time to save herself; and two, because, like so many stars who died too young before her, she was and will be the butt of so many jokes, no matter how many people are crying and wailing and singing her praises now. The image of her coked up and yelling "Bob-bay!" will likely never die. I was a huge fan of hers, especially when I was younger, but I am definitely guilty of telling people "you're sweating like Whitney."
But, I'm not going to spend this entire blog talking about Whitney, but rather the thoughts that her death bring me - strength, goodness, weakness, charisma and those who feed off of them. I'm no celebrity, except possibly in my own mind, but I've had my share of people who've seen my strength as something they could tap into to fill their own perceived lack of fortitude, and they did this by exploiting my weaknesses. We're all too willing to latch onto the mistakes and embarrassing episodes in others' lives, particularly when someone is in the public eye. Why do we feel we have the right to do that? Is it because it makes us feel better when the mighty fall? Is it because we feel invested in them? We've given them our money, our time and our support, so they're no longer allowed to be given compassion? Is it the distance between us and them - the fact that they'll never hear our criticism? Is it OK, because it enables us to get a laugh at a dinner party, or does it make us feel like we're part of the greater social consciousness, and if everyone else is making fun, why shouldn't we? I mean, look at the criticism people laid at Madonna's feet, saying how she was too old and should retire, when she'd just given one of the most incredible Super Bowl performances in the history of the game....
I think all of the reasons I listed above is true. In the end, we like to dehumanize others in order to use their character traits and flaws to make ourselves feel better. What really scares me is that we do it to each other. And when one isn't a celebrity, with no bouncers, security guards, locked and surveilled gates or armies of lawyers, the impact of this ugly aspect of human nature is truly frightening and truly devastating. I mean, it's got to hurt to see yourself satorized on TV or to read an unfair article in The Post, but it simply cannot compare to finding out that a friend has betrayed you. Most of us don't have a compound to run to to escape the people we need to avoid. Nor have we developed the thick skin that those who live in the spotlight need to develop if they are to survive. Whitney couldn't either. Her demons became too much. Maybe she needed to escape from the "good girl" image that had been manufactured for her, but was unable to. Maybe her time with Bobby Brown was not just the catalyst for her spiraling career, but in some ways was her release from those shackles - a place where she could be all of the dark parts of herself that she was never allowed to express. So many others couldn't find a healthy balance between their public and private personas. Janis couldn't. Kurt couldn't. Amy couldn't. And it just shows they were human, and here we were laughing at their pain.
I generally don't see myself as a particularly strong person, even though others do. But, if I really look hard at how I've gone through the days of my life, I can see that I'm misguided in that notion. I mean, I'm the guy who, despite the seemingly unending flow of stress and the misgivings and second-guesses that flood my brain, always comes off as the jovial entertainer in the room without a single problem in the world. So, I'm not so unlike a performer who, despite crying in their dressing room about a hurtful thing that someone said, or being abused just minutes before I'm to take the stage, or worrying about how they're going to possibly make it through another day, must walk out anyway and show the world a beautiful character.
I think we all need to take a step back and realize why we do what we do. For each of us, there are probably similar reasons and some that are unique to our own experiences and the voids within us that we need to figure out how to close and heal. But, what is certain is that we'll never close our own wounds while stretching open someone else's. When someone is kind to you, return the kindness rather than asking for more. When someone is generous with you, return that generosity - it doesn't matter if it's monetary or emotional in nature - give it back in a way that you can. And work to realize that even those of us in the world who give and give and give also need. And that those of us who never give probably need more than anyone. And of course, there's a point at which ceasing to give is the only way to truly help someone - but never become too cynical to offer someone your generosity of spirit.
I'd love to say that I'm going to go listen to hours of Whitney Houston music in her honor. But, if I'd really cared, wouldn't I have been doing that all along? I prefer to remember walking through a field as a kid, all alone, watching birds chase each other from tree to tree and listening to Didn't We Almost Have it All? What's great is, we still can.
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