Thursday, June 25, 2009

When Kings Die

I had never felt so sleepy. We had only been in Germany for a few days and I was still trying to recover from jet lag. My mom and dad were enjoying catching up on 6 months worth of news and Dad was eager for Mom to fill him in on all that I had been doing while we stayed with Grandma in Mississippi waiting for quarters to become available so that we could join him in Europe. The radio was tuned to the Armed Forces Network (AFN) and the program was cranking out oldies from the '50's. Suddenly, the music stopped and an announcer's voice woke me up and broke news that just didn't seem possible. He said, "Ladies and Gentleman, The King is dead! Elvis Presley died today of undetermined causes in his Memphis home of Graceland. We are interrupting all programming to bring you exclusives on the life and times of Elvis Aaron Presley."

And so it all began. There were precious archival interviews with Elvis that had been conducted when he had been stationed near our location as a soldier in Germany with the 3rd Armored Division. There were on the street interviews with Germans who had known Elvis, special reports from the States, Wolfman Jack specials, etc. EVERYONE seemed touched by this unexpected passing of an American Original. Elvis, The King of Rock and Roll, was dead and even in far away Deutschland his music and persona had touched millions.

Eerily, I was reflecting on that time earlier this morning as I painted our front porch and listened to some old Elvis standards, including his MAGNIFICENT southern Gospel arrangements. (If you think his Rock and Roll is awesome, you should hear his Gospel tunes - WOW!) I thought about how much he had to offer and did offer, yet how much he failed to accomplish due to his inability to really find any anchor of normalcy in his life. As I was pondering his demise, the one pop icon who approached his stature came to mind and I thought, "Well at least Michael has more time. Perhaps he can redeem his last troubled years." Of course I didn't realize then that Michael Jackson only had hours remaining at the moment I expressed my thoughts.

A few hours later, I turned on the TV thinking I was gong to catch up on other news which included Farrah Faucett's death from cancer, which had been expected. The screen suddenly lit up with breaking news banners that seemed too spectacular to fit the "normal" range of "breaking news." The words were hauntingly familiar, and the name attached was simply shocking. "Ladies and gentleman, The King is Dead! Michael Jackson has died of what appears to be a heart attack at the age of 50. The King of Pop is no more!" I felt the same level of disbelief I had felt some 32 tears earlier. This time, instead of listening to my dad recalling the Elvis's budding career, Luz and I began recalling when we first heard the Jackson 5, tracing their careers and Michael's solo emergence. This was amazing considering that we were discussing his impact on us from the perspectives of two different continents! Luz even recalled how during her last trip home to the Philippines just a few years ago, MJ's presence was the major factor to consider in planning local transportation, public events and intra-island travel! With thousands of miles of ocean between us, The King of Pop had been a major influence on our cultural identities and our remembrances of our growing up years.

After such reflection, the question arises, what does the death of such a famous person really mean in the Grand Scheme? Why does the passing of someone we really didn't know touch us so personally and so deeply? One explanatory comment I made in responding to a friend via IM's who expressed his own surprise at how the Michael Jackson's death had affected him was this, "You can't hear someones voice for [30 years] without their passing touching you!" All of us who enjoyed Michael's music can attach specific memories to it. In elementary school, there were incessant arguments about who was better, The Osmond's or The Jackson 5? In Junior High and High School, Michael's solo career began to emerge with Off the Wall which fueled the "disco infernos" for countless school dances, picnics and gatherings. Thriller took everything to another level during college and early adulthood and the rest is History.

These memories are sweet. Nevertheless, as with everything in my life, I find it necessary to glean some spiritual truth from the nostalgia. We all should take note that MJ's life demonstrates a too oft told tale of extreme fame and riches failing to bring ultimate happiness and peace. Even with a large family behind him, it does not appear that Michael ever found peace for his heart or rest for his soul. With all the joyful, carefree memories his music brings for many of us, it is a tragedy that he never found that kind of carefree enjoyment for himself, but rather lived a stress-filled life filled with pain, controversy and an unfulfilled quest for personal peace and contentment. In many ways, having achieved everything anyone could want, he possessed nothing we all ultimately desire. His shocking death serves as another jolting reminder that the basic aspects of human existence are common to us all. As John F. Kennedy stated in his commencement address to Washington University in 1963, "...[I]n the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

When "Kings" die, their passages serve as reminders that no matter how great or small, we are all given a limited amount of time to make good use of the gifts, talents and intellects that the Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us. Ephesians 5:15-17 puts it like this:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.
With all of the accomplishments of the two Kings of our musical heritage, it is a shame that there is an almost universal understanding that somehow for all they accomplished, they still fell short of their intended purposes.

As we remember the good times they brought us, let us also remember the difficulties they suffered and the mistakes they made. Let us display godly wisdom as we live our lives and let their struggles and failures serve as warnings and motivators for us to make the most of every opportunity to do good and glorify of Father in Heaven. It is the one sure fire way we can each make sure that their lives and ours shall not have been lived in vain. Remembering the kings, Farrah and Ed with deepest respect - until next time...


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