shmuley boteach 88.
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When he witnessed the explosion of the atomic bomb he had worked so hard to develop, Robert Oppenheimer famously quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, "I am become death, destroyer of worlds." Anyone who witnessed the tragic implosion of the life of Michael Jackson and its circus aftermath over the last week might amend the saying to read, "I am fame, destroyer of lives."
From the media infatuation with every prurient detail of the aftermath of his death, one would think that it was a cartoon character, a caricature of a real man, that had died rather than an actual person. Michael always had a mutually exploitive relationship with the American people. He used us to feed his constant need for attention and we used him to feed our constant need for entertainment.
Still, it would have been hard to believe that Michael's story could be more bizarre in death than in life. But from the mother of Michael's two older children "deciding" whether or not she wants her kids, to Joe Jackson talking up his new record label as his son's body lies unburied, to nurses coming forward to claim that Michael asked them to inject him with quantities of painkillers that would have felled a water buffalo, clearly the impossible has been achieved.
But is there any adult here to bring proper sobriety to the moment, to actually remind us that a human being has died, that a tormented soul finally lost his battle with life and that three innocent children have been orphaned?
And just when you thought this theater of the absurd had reached its zenith, now comes the news that Michael's memorial service will take place at a basketball arena complete with 12,000 fans and that the Ringling Brothers Circus will be occupying the same arena the very next day.
Did no one say to himself that what actually destroyed Michael's life and what brought such untold misery to the Jackson family as a whole was an inability to cope with superstardom and that perhaps something might be learned from Michael's untimely passing by sending him off in a quiet, dignified, truly religious ceremony that focused on the quiet acts of kindness he performed rather than the albums he sold?
HERE, THEN, is the eulogy that should be given to bring redemption to Michael's life.
"The death of Michael Joseph Jackson is not just the personal tragedy of a man who died young. Nor does it solely represent a colossal waste of life and talent. Rather it is, above all else, an American tragedy. For whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, our obsession with Michael Jackson, our infatuation with every peculiar detail of his life, stems from the fact that he represents a microcosm of America.
"It has long been fashionable to caricature Michael as an oddball, as a freak. But how different were his peculiarities to our own?
"Michael's dream was to be famous so that he would be loved. Having been forced into performing as a young boy, he never knew a time when affection was a free gift. Rather, attention, the poor substitute for love with which he made due, was something that he had to earn from the age of five. Hence, his obsession with being famous and his lifelong fear of being forgotten by the crowds. And if that meant purposefully doing strange things in order to sustain the public's interest, he would pay that price too because he could not live without his drug of choice, fame.
"But how different is that from the rest of us, living as we do in an age of reality TV where washing our dirty laundry in public makes us into celebrities and competing on American Idol promises us that we can be the next Michael Jackson.
"Of course, there was Michael's constant plastic surgery. How much could one man so hate himself, we asked, that he is prepared to disfigure his face utterly? But the same question could easily be asked of millions of Americans, especially women, who live with extremely poor body image, who starve their bodies and undergo extreme cosmetic procedures - including sticking a needle in their forehead - to rediscover lost beauty and youth.
"YES, THERE was Michael's troubled soul. Could a man so blessed with fame and fortune, we wondered, really be so miserable that he had to numb his pain with a syringe of Demerol? And yet, my friends, America is the richest country in the world with the highest standard of living. Still, we consume three quarters of the earth's anti-depressants and one out of three Americans is on an anti-anxiety medication.
"As far as Michael's materialism and decadence, particularly when we watched him on TV spending millions of dollars on useless baubles, is it really all that different to the rest of us who have maxed our credit cards buying junk we don't need to compensate for an insatiable inner emptiness?
"There were also Michael's broken relationships. Two divorces, estrangement from brothers and sisters, and extremely questionable and perhaps even criminal sexual activities. Yes, few of us, fortunately, are guilty of such crimes. But the huge success of 'barely legal' pornographic Web sites, 'Girls Gone Wild' videos, and the sexualization of teens like Miley Cyrus should perhaps have us question the adolescent nature of our own sexual interests. As for broken relationships, Time magazine just reported that of every 100 marriages, 50 divorce, 25 stay together unhappily and only 25 are happy.
"In sum, my friends, we are fixated on Michael Jackson because he was always just a very extreme version of ourselves and compacted into his short life a supercharged version of all the strangeness and profligacy of a culture which puts attention before love, fans before family, body before spirit, medical sedation before true inner peace and material indulgence before spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps the only reason the rest of us did not become as strange or as broken as Michael was that we simply lacked the talent and the resources to do so.
"And therein lies a profound morality lesson. Where Michael goes, the rest of us go. Our obsession with Michael was always selfish. It was a focus on where we ourselves were headed, where our culture and our interests were leading us.
"And now we have the power to take a senseless tragedy and given it meaning by learning from the heartbreaking demise of a once-great legend that life is not about fame and fortune but rather about God, family, community and good deeds.
"Rest in peace, Michael. May you find in death the serenity you never had in life and may they judge you more charitably in heaven that we did here on earth."
The writer is the founder of This World: The Values Network. His upcoming book is The Blessing of Enough. www.shmuley.com