I'll get this out of the way: I was terribly saddened to learn that Michael Jackson died today. My first thought: No way. My second thought: On the list of People Most Likely to Fake Their Own Deaths, Michael Jackson is at the very top. My third through thousandth thoughts: Damn.
It's hard enough on a normal day to know how to feel and what to think about Michael Jackson. His music is stamped on our souls. His personal life . . . we can't wash away the stink of what we've heard about that man. It's impossible to know how much of it is true, but it's tough to prove a shred of it false. Besides, the maelstrom of shocking doubt and bizarre intrigue seems to be the image MJ wanted anyway. But I don't think he wanted exactly what he got.
The thing about death is, it's the personification of everything bad in the world. When someone dies, you remember the good stuff and the bad—no matter what the optimists say to the contrary—you remember it all, and it comes in a flood.
You remember the disagreements that never got settled. The regrets. The questions that never got asked, or were asked without a satisfactory answer. You remember unkind thoughts. Faults that won't get mentioned. And the good things, they just turn sour when you remember that the person who brought you happiness is gone.
And when someone dies, the full weight of all that is wrong with the world converges at one point that pierces your heart, the chronic pain of life uniting in an acute moment of agony.
So Michael Jackson presents a little problem for us, don't he? The loss of the musical master, the entertainment icon, the moonwalker (I didn't exist when JFK died or Armstrong leapt for mankind, but I remember where I was when I first saw MJ moonwalk); the nonexistent childhood and the troubled family; the mountains of abuse that categorized his life . . . MJ died, and I felt like I had to process it all while watching The Tale of Desperaux with my two sons.
I'll remember where I was when I heard about Michael. It was an awful moment. But I will carry with me the music, the moves (they live on in me, Michael, rest easy), and the memory of every "don't do this" child-rearing lesson he ever taught me. I still don't know how to feel. I don't know where MJ is now. I just know that whatever people say about him, whatever he might have done, we all need a lot of grace. We're all lucky ever to shine. And we all . . . well, we all die. There isn't anything good about that.
Still, when it ends, mourning the loss of what's good is less painful than crying over trouble that never got resolved. So I'll just say that waiting to make peace is the worst kind of procrastination. To MJ, I hope you finally found the peace that so long eluded you.