Facebook is crawling with Jackson clips. Watching them, I see snapshots from his first twenty-five years. There is the stunning “I’ll Be There” and the groundbreaking 1983 “Billie Jean,” but there is nothing from the last two decades. This may be because people want to respect the dead and show those moments when he really was the pinnacle of charisma and talent, rather than remembering him for what he became.
But what he became started with those clips. He was a talented child who was thrust into the limelight, perhaps willingly but certainly far too young. What that early fame did to his psyche? Well, that’s the stuff of speculation, but I think we all have a rough idea.
He was pushed out into a fame that most adults would be ill-prepared to handle, but Jackson was only a small child, barely older than my eldest son, who still sleeps with his blankie and rides in a car seat. That he could perform so well under those circumstances is astonishing; that he ever was put into that situation in the first place is tragic.
Sometimes, our children are capable of amazing feats. They may be gifted in some activity, able to provoke gasps of astonishment from onlookers. We will be tempted to push them forward, bedazzled by the possibility that they will accomplish something great. When that happens, we must remind ourselves that normalcy is the highest joy to which we can aspire for them. A life lived in peace, a productive life that gives back, to be sure, but one that allows them to attend neighborhood block parties. Perhaps they will become famous – it happens sometimes – or perhaps they will be known only to a small circle of people like the rest of us. Let’s leave that to their adulthood.
What I want most for my children right now is for them to have their childhoods. I will take pride in their accomplishments and I will push them to develop a work ethic, but I will always try to remember that being alone at the top is often counter to living a fulfilling life. When they die, perhaps millions of people will mourn them, perhaps not. Either way, all that will matter will be that they filled their days with a joy that tasted like peaches.