tagReviews & EssaysOne Moment in Time

One Moment in Time


Why does it seem I spend so much time writing eulogies? Michael Jackson, Steven Jobs and now Whitney Houston.

I remember growing up in South Carolina. I was raised primarily by my great grandmother, a woman who was almost sixty when I was born. We lived in what was called a mill village. Back in the teens, twenties and early thirties, textile mills in the South would build small wooden frame houses surrounding their factories. They would then sell these to their workers, taking the 'mortgage' payments out of their weekly pay. It ensured a relatively stable local work force. Of course, by the time I was born in sixty-five, the mill had cut back production and most of the original workers, who had bought those houses, were like my grandmother...retired.

But growing up in a neighborhood where the majority of residents were elderly, I learned about death and dying early. I cannot even count the number of funerals I attended as a child. What's more I was soon drafted into a rather macabre tradition. In addition to making food and taking it when someone died, the neighbors would also collect money to purchase an arrangement of flowers. I can remember being as young as six and going around with my teenage aunt. We would collect fifty cents or a dollar from everyone, carefully writing down their names and donations on a sheet of paper. When my aunt married at eighteen, the job became mine. It was an all too frequent honor.

But what I remember most clearly and is most relevant to this conversation is how my Nanny, as I called her, responded to the death of famous people. It seemed strange to me that she would mourn the loss of actors, singers and politicians that she had never known or met. I remember sitting upon the front porch and listening as she told me about the great funeral train that ran along the tracks in the woods across the road from our house. It had carried the body of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from Warm Springs, George to Washington, DC to lie in state. She told how people came from all over to line up along the tracks to say their good-byes to the 'greatest President this country ever had.' She was proud to have been among them, paying her respects as she would call it.

Of course, I was not alive for his death or John Kennedy's, but I was present as a myriad of others passed on as we politely called it. Desi Arnaz, William Conrad (the original Matt Dillion), and of course the unforgettable Elvis Presley. My great aunt Gertrude loved Elvis. She owned every record the man had ever made. She had even gone to Las Vegas to see him perform (that was a major trip in those days). When Elvis died, she cried for days and days. I honestly believe that she would not have mourned her own husband's passing as much as she did Elvis.

I could not understand it. Why would you shed tears over people you had never known? Admittedly, I am getting older, but I understand now. I have lived through deaths of my own. Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and now Whitney Houston, among my own most memorable. I realize now that it is not as much those people that we never knew that we mourn but that part of ourselves that they take with them...the reminder that we are all mortal and that death calls for us all. Our day too will come.

Whitney like Michael is special to me because of the way her music speaks to my soul. When I gave up on organized religion, finding it too hypocritical, I found that my soul cried out for something to restore it during those hard times. For me it is music, inspirational music in particular. With the advent of technology and the Internet it is easier to access, organize and play back your own musical history...those songs that lift you and carry you on the wings of angels to another time and place. For me that is my YouTube playlist. It has a variety of songs, genres and musicians. But only three performers have more than one song on my playlist...John Lennon, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston...all gone too soon, dying too young. Their music reaches out to the dreamer in me and makes me believe for a few minutes that mankind can be more than we are.

Each morning before my special needs daughter awakes, I grab my computer and a cup of coffee. I bring up YouTube and my soul takes flight to the words of...Imagine...Man in the Mirror...Let It Be...We are the World...Heal the World...The Greatest Love of All and my anthem...One Moment in Time. With these songs streaming from my laptop, I am able once more to face whatever the day holds for me. It is much the same as the time I once spent in prayer to a god.

As I now remember Whitney (the others and my own mortality), I am drawn to the words of my anthem...One Moment in Time. I have a laminated copy of its words hanging on my goals wall in my bedroom. It is decorated with pictures of rainbows and stallions running wild on a beach. In particular, these lines sum it all up...

You're a winner for a lifetime
If you seize that one moment in time.
Make it shine.

And that is why we mourn these famous people that we never knew. Because they seized their one moment in time and made it shine. Despite the troubled lives that came before or even after that one moment in time, they did something special. They lived. Let me say that again...they LIVED. They grabbed their lives by the horns. They took chances. And they used their talents to touch others. And not even the twisted legacy of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll can negate the power of that.

So this morning as I finish this article and plug in my YouTube playlist, I imagine somewhere out there in this universe (heaven if you like...although I think John might get really mad at me for even making that analogy) there is a new choir forming. Alongside Frank Sinatra singing 'I Did It My Way,' are John, Michael and now Whitney. I like to think too that sitting in the front row and enjoy the music is Princess Diana. And it is with a bit of sadness and a great deal of hope that I recognize I too will one day join that audience...but not I hope before I seize my One Moment in Time.


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