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!
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.