Friday, July 3, 2009
A Case of Mistaken Identity
(This was started on June 26. I know everyone is probably WAY oversaturated by now, but I'm still going to post it for some reason.)
Yesterday, I had a Forest Gump moment.
My husband and I took James out to lunch at "The Stand," our favorite college dive in Westwood. As we ate our burgers, we heard what seemed to be an unusual number of helicopters hovering overhead. We thought that: a.) either a lot of folks were getting new hearts or lungs, or b.) there must be some major celebs in the neighborhood because of the LA Film Festival. (Johnny Dep and Christian Bale had visited just the day before.) Then we heard something about Michael Jackson being rushed to UCLA on the restaurant TV.
After lunch, we strolled James through the neighborhood. People were running towards the hospital. A crazy man ran by screaming profanity at the crowds on the sidewalk. As we neared Ronald Reagan, we could see newsvans screeching up to the curb. My husband told me to get up close to see what was going on.....probably because he knew I would, anyway. Somehow, I ended up directly in front of the press conference mikes, just behind the cameramen. I felt like Forrest at the White House. No one asked me to move. I guess they thought I had a reason to be there, as it was obvious I was neither a student nor a hospital employee. It was a fascinating spot for observation.
A line of recognizable reporters from every major (and some minor) networks stood or sat on the grass three feet in front of me. The women were powdering their shiny noses, fluffing their hair, and licking their lips. Rumors swirled around.... cardiac arrest, coma, death??? A sea of cell phones and cameras of all shapes and sizes were swaying in the air. New crews arrived continuously, holding up badges and pressing their way through the crowd. There was an air of excitement and anticipation.
I stood there like a little mouse with my mental tape recorder going, pressing words and images into my mind. My husband laughed at me from the periphery, where he was entertaining James. He lifted him up over the crowd to see me, and then motioned for me to get back to playing reporter. Sometimes he likes to egg me on.
“F*** this, f*** that, f***the other” the cameraman closest to me spat out to an executive-looking type. He was venting about something that had happened earlier in the day. As he shook his head in disgust, he saw me looking at him. By this point, the crowd had swelled from behind, pushing those of us in the front closer together. He gave me a little shrug of apology. “I guess it’s been a pretty intense day for you,” I said, “First Farrah, and now this.” “It always comes in three’s,” he sagely replied. “Ed McMahon,” another observer threw out. “That was yesterday,” the cameraman and I answered simultaneously. “But it’s always in three’s,” the jaded cameraman repeated direly.
A skinny newsreporter, sweating from the intensity of it all, looked around at those of us in her vicinity, obviously desperate for something...anything...to put on the air. At this point, no official hospital spokesperson had come out to confirm the death reports. “Would any of you be willing to share your feelings right now? I know it’s a very difficult time,” she pleaded. I looked down at the ground. My mama always taught me, “If you can’t say something nice...” As a young woman enthusiastically emoted her grief and adulation into the mike, I said to myself, “The tragedy of this life began long before today.”
It was hard to avoid juxtaposing that scene against another:
A crowd at UCLA Hospital. A patient in critical condition...maybe dying. People waiting for news...any news.
But this crowd was praying, not licking its chops in anticipation of titillating fodder for our celebrity-obsessed world to feast upon....waiting for some juicy ratings-boosting morsel. Instead of standing up on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the elements of a tragic demise, that crowd was down on its knees...or prostrate....pleading heaven to stop it in its tracks. Instead of pushing each other to get closer to the center of action, people gently held each other in comforting embrace, or held hands in fervent prayer.
To me, the pivotal tragedy of Michael Jackson’s life was one of identity.
He never knew who he really was.
He lived behind masks and veils. He was so uncomfortable in his own skin that he permanently changed the hue with which God had embued it. He hated the image of the man in the mirror so much that he inalterably altered it.
He seemed to have absolutely everything in the world except for peace, self-acceptance, and freedom. Everything money could buy, yet nothing at all.
Like Michael’s, Katherine’s visage has also been dramatically altered, but not of her own choosing. She was just fine with the face she had, although its contemplation was not a top priority for her. As I've said before, she spent less time in front of a mirror than almost any woman I know.
In a bit of fortuitous foreshadowing, Katherine was led to teach a lesson on “Identity” shortly before her AVM rupture. Teachers know that no one learns the lesson as well as the one who prepares it. It is a great fringe benefit of teaching. I love to teach on subjects about which I know very little, as it forces me to learn something new. (I’m lazy, and probably wouldn’t do it otherwise.)
So, I thank God that Katherine learned her lessons well. Her head knowledge has been put to the test by her life experiences, and has held true for her. She knows that her identity is not based on her physical appearance, her abilities, her talents, or even her God-given gifts. Her identity is, first and foremost, this: The very, very well-beloved, beautiful, precious, special child of a lovely, loving, merciful Father. She is the daughter of a King. And Katherine has had a unique opportunity to learn first-hand that she is loved totally unconditionally, just exactly as she is: whether strong or weak, rich or poor, capable or incapable, functional or nonfunctional, “doing” or not doing.
My experience of the 25th was a good reminder for me. Sometimes it’s easy to feel envious of those who “have it all,” according to the standards of the world. To wish that we, too, had the ability to go wherever we want to go, do whatever we want to do, buy whatever we want to buy whenever we want to buy it. As a culture, we love to put people who can up on pedestals. (And love toppling them down even more.) But Death is the Great Democratizer. The ground is level there. We enter the world naked, helpless, and alone, and we exit the same way. Celebrities and homeless people, movie stars and prostitutes, billionaires and trash collectors...average housewives from Georgia...
I think that the greatest tragedy of Michael Jackson’s life was that he didn’t seem to know how completely loved he was by the one who made him. The adoration of millions and millions of fans couldn’t make up for that.
“For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25,esv)
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (II Cor. 3:18,niv)
“...in Heaven everything is turned upside-down,
cuz the last will be first in that celestial town...” (excerpt from The Jesus Rap)
(*A final note: Please know that I intend no disrespect or judgment of any kind. I am simply making observations and stating personal opinions. I'm not God, and I certainly don't know everything. I believe that every life is sacred. I pray that, at the end, Mr. Jackson found the peace which seemed to elude him during his lifetime.)