Sunday, June 28, 2009

Puberty, Bum Kidneys, and The Man in the Mirror

How can a person just be alive and then in the next second be gone? This is what bothers me so much about death. Here one day gone the next. So horribly strange and permanent. Michael Jackson died Friday. I did not cry. I was not saddened by his death. I know Michael Jackson's body of work. I did not know him. I was shaken, though. I was shaken because he was such a big part of my brother's life. 6 months ago his real best friend died, now his imaginary best friend died.

When my brother was 6 he was diagnosed with Nephrotic Syndrome. Its a kidney disease that causes kidneys not to filter proteins properly. He was hospitalized for it when he was first diagnosed and continues to go through the cycle of being in remission (no visible symptoms of the illness) and out of remission (body fully compromised by the illness). My brother is a huge Michael Jackson fan. He is more than a fan. During his illness, Michael Jackson's music was his escape. After my brother got out of the hospital, he performed for his elementary school talent show. He sang "Man in the Mirror". While he was singing, my whole family was in tears. This is a kid who was just in the hospital and now was brave enough to sing in front of everyone. Despite his changed appearance his illness caused, he was fearless enough to sing. And he sung Michael Jackson. To this day his old teachers and school friends remember that performance.

So Michael Jackson is only important to me because he is important to my brother. I am grateful for the escape that Michael's music provided to him. My own connection to Michael Jackson's music is limited to the Michael Jackson's poster my sister and I had on our wall. The one with him dressed in white with the yellow cardigan. He was so cute. I loved staring at that poster. I will spare the details, but suffice it to say he catapulted me into puberty. However, in the Michael Jackson v. Prince debate, I was a Prince gal. Did I mention I was going through puberty? It was an easy choice.

My brother has every piece of music, every concert tape, video, magazine article, book, program that Michael Jackson has ever created, posed, or participated in. Yesterday we watched some of those recordings. We watched Motown 25, his anniversary concert, Oprah's 1993 interview with him, and Moonwalker. We also watched a couple of scenes from The Wiz. The depth of his talent is staggering. Watching all of that made me realize how we will probably never experience a talent so complete as Michael Jackson's. Also, the Gray Sibling Michael Jackson memorial day was another opportunity for us to get together and laugh and reminisce and be Holly, Michele and Derek: Lewis and Brenda's kids. Finding laughter in tragedy, beauty in ugliness, and bravery in the face of the fear of illness.

It is ironic that 22 years ago my brother with swollen face and puffy eyes sang in tribute to Michael Jackson, and yesterday my brother again out of remission with swollen face and puffy throat celebrated Michael Jackson's life after experiencing his death. It was very odd that it happened the way it did again linking Michael Jackson with my brother's health. But I was again grateful to Michael Jackson for providing our escape and a space and place for us to gather again in tribute.

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