Monday, June 29, 2009

I Don't Grieve for Michael Jackson, but...

A month ago I sat at a restaurant with a friend and the subject of death came up. I mentioned I’d been to many funerals for family and friends.

“So you’ve had a lot of people die in your life?” She asked.



I began listing the many people that I’ve lost from childhood friends to family members to neighbors to students and fellow teachers. After I finished my list, she gave me the incredulous look I’ve come to expect after I recite this morbid inventory I happen to own.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t respond in empathy when Ed, Farrah and Michael died last week. I’ve experienced grief so many times for people I actually know. So no empathy came. Just judgment.

I’m not proud that I often judge others, but I do. I wish I could blame it on some genetic disease or the altitude in Colorado, but I can’t. Part of my sinful nature, that dark part of me that Jesus has redeemed but that I still have to battle, is this tendency to judge first, empathize later.

So I looked down my nose at all the folks who were sad about Michael Jackson. I made jokes and I tsked at the outpouring of people on Facebook who’d never met the man.

Puulllease! He was a weirdo!

But then…

God got a hold of me. He is sneaky and surprises me often. As He did Saturday night.

My husband knows my history of love for John Denver. Growing up in Van Horn, Texas, I discovered the music of John Denver and fell head over heals. I learned all his songs and could play many of them on the piano and guitar. I spent endless hours singing them with childhood friends and folks from my youth group at church.

I have wonderful memories of “Back Home Again” and “This Old Guitar.” “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Country Roads, Take me Home.” Sweet moments that come to me delicious, like butter pecan ice cream.

So for our anniversary, my husband bought us tickets to a John Denver tribute at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The man who sang, Roy Rivers, sounded just like John and brought me right back to Van Horn, Texas. Once again I was a cotton topped kid singing his songs at the top of my voice, loving the smells of wildflowers in a forest and the soft winds of friendship.

Sitting in that gorgeous amphitheatre, I cried when I thought about the day John Denver died. I’d heard the news in my car on the way to work. I drove into the Horizon High School parking lot and chose to miss our teacher meeting before 1st period. I needed a while to grieve. I sat in my car and cried for those moments of singing with my guitar in the backyard at night. I cried thinking of the sweet laughter with my friends around the piano.

This is when God snuck up on me and whacked me upside my head. It hurt a little. It was supposed to.

Empathy poured over me and I felt badly for those grieving over Michael Jackson. Maybe they weren’t trying to grieve as if they’d lost someone they personally knew. Maybe they were grieving moments of memory. The sweet times that MJ’s music had come into their life and provided the backdrop for joy or sorrow.

I still don’t grieve for Michal Jackson. I feel bad for his kids. Not him.

But in the middle of a song, under a perfect Rocky Mountain High sky, I discovered empathy for those who do grieve for him.

For you guys, I am truly sorry for your loss.


denise said...

You've hit the bulls eye. People aren't grieving for the person, they are grieving the memories of going to the concerts and listening to albums. I know people who would go to John Denver concerts several times a year. They would celebrate anniversaries and birthdays playing his music. When you grow up with someone's music, you grieve that you will never have that same experience again. It can never be re-created.
Thanks Robbie.

Ralph said...

Denise I like your concept of"grieving the memory" and not the person. I saw the Jackson 5 at the state fair in 1972.I don't grieve Michael or the memory but it was pretty neat for an 11 year old kid.

Kay Day said...

I don't feel sad. And I admit, I too have had a hard time grasping the depth of some people's grief. I was amazed when my hubby told me some people called off work over it.

I've never really felt much when someone famous dies, except maybe a general feeling of loss. "Well, there will definitely be no more Audry Hepburn movies now." that kind of thing.

But--even though I was not a fan, nor did I give her any thought--I was really sad when Dianna died. It surprised me how I felt. I'm still not sure why it hit me like it did. I didn't "grieve" but I sure was upset.

I think this kind of thing has so many angles we can't possibly understand why it affects people the way it does.
And whether I understand or agree with people's grief, it's still real pain for them. And I'm sorry for that.
You've given me a better perspective. Thank you, Robbie.

smithsk said...

There is so much sadness and tragedy in this world that if we felt the depth of it all and grieved for it all, we would go insane. That includes the loss of Michael Jackson.

I did not grieve for him either. But many did, especially those close to him.

And you have measured out your grief and empathy for those close to you who needed it from you. You deserve a hug!


Cheryl Barker said...

Great insight, Robbie, into why people grieve the loss of a music artist that they never knew personally. I hadn't thought of it that way before...

By the way, I posted a prayer need on my blog the other day. If you get a chance, come over and check it out. I'd appreciate your prayers for my daughter & son-in-law right now. Thanks!

Jan Parrish said...

Robbie, I loved this. Your transparency is oh so refreshing.

Harry said...

Micheal Jackson simply didn't appeal to you as he did others.It
seems like people may question them-selves as is this right. People feel the same ways about the
celebrity, John Denver, as you
feel about MJ. Denver just touches you in a way MJ just couldn't. Your feelings only demon
strate the differences of people
andthe right to be so. You men-
tioned Jesus. Are you in a state
that you can pray for both these
people that have faced thier maker?

stillbreathing29 said...

Well I do grieve for him! I grieve for the memories as well. I grieve for his kids as well. You are heartless to say you don't grieve for him. Walk a mile in his shoes. You need to talk to Christ a little more. God needs to smack you upside your head one more time.
MJ admited to a problem with pain meds. But after being severely burned and suffering from lupus, I can see how that could happen, especially since I too suffer from the disease and other autoimmune disorders like it. That is his only crime. The other lies told by on him was gossip. I didn't know Christians were into believing in gossip. Since you didn't follow him, all you know is the sensationalized gossip in the media. Not the true man. He was under fbi investigation for 17 years. Can you cope with that? I couldn't. Now after his death. the FBI says they couldn't find any wrong doing. It goes on and on. His innocence is finally revealed but only after his death. I'll bet John Denver could lead a reasonably normal life without being mobbed by paoazzari. how lonely is that to be caged in your own home unable to live a normal life. I am also sure John Denver didn't endure a verbally abusive childhood and work since the age of 5. Never having a normal childhood, learning social skills we all take for granted. The list goes on and on. yearning for the love of a father who was too focused on success to notice. You have no clue. I am sorry he suffered such a life and it lead to his sadness and lonliness. all he had was his fans and children. My only wish is that we stood up to the media on his behalf and gave him the freedom everyone else had to be normal and free.