After the shock of losing an icon wanes, the news cycle shifts and the world continues to turn, for me, the questions linger – no, not about the cause of death, the dangers of mixing prescription drugs with alcohol, or to what hiding place a grieving child may have disappeared. Rather, such heartbreaking news leaves me pondering the meaning of life, the urgency of living taught by death and the tragedy of knowing, but being unable to achieve, the greatest love of all.
The words tweeted by Barbara Streisand captured me. “She had everything beauty, a magnificent voice. How sad her gifts could not bring her the same happiness they brought us.” Yes, I thought, how sad to have all of the trappings of which nearly every American child dreams and to still not have enough. And, for me, therein lies the opportunity for growth. Therein lies the foundation for enlightenment.
Whitney Houston spent decades marveling us with her music, and, perhaps now, if we take time to reflect, we can gain more than gossip. We can pay tribute to her life by learning from the circumstances of her death. Of course, there are the obvious lessons about the pitfalls one must avoid – drugs, needing constant and immediate gratification, attaching to people who do not honor you. Just below the surface, however, lies more sage advice – wisdom we can pass on to our children. Notwithstanding that so many seem to spend lifetimes chasing them, fame, wealth, talent, a worldwide stage, access to the so-called elites and accolades are simply not enough to sustain a human soul. The pressing need for “The Greatest Love of All” that Whitney Houston reintroduced and emblazoned in our hearts with her magnificent gift of song is amplified in the aftermath of her death.
If we truly believe the children are our future, we must heed the directive to “teach them well and let them lead the way.” Teaching them well means we must pay attention and we must help them navigate the maze of conflicting values and messages that bombard them daily. We must be more vigilant in guarding against the words and images that teach them they are too fat, too short, too unknown, too poor, too light, too dark, too imperfect, too unworthy, that they have too little and that they are not enough. We must help them transform dreams of being famous, rich and plastered on billboards to dreams of building healthy and meaningful relationships, dreams of having purpose in life that is greater than themselves or an industry built around their own image. We must teach them how to be sustained by knowledge of their own inner beauty and value irrespective of the world’s opinions and expectations, the size of their wardrobes, the square footage of their homes or the amount of “bling” they can don. To be such a transformative force, we must be present, engaged and involved in creating alternatives. Face to face family time cannot be replaced with a planner filled with extracurricular activities centered on competition and achieving stardom of one sort or another or unbridled idle time in front of a screen studying the pretend lives of actors and avatars.
And, even that is not enough. We must pay attention and be part of this world. When our children experience and join us in working to improve the lives of others, to be protectors of our environment, to care for the animals whose habitats we’ve overtaken, to speak out against injustices or simply to visit with our sick or elderly neighbors, they begin to understand their place in this complicated universe. They begin to learn about the ties that bind them to everything around them and that make life worth living when the glory fades and people no longer remember their names. They begin to experience the unprescripted high of life that only comes from inner peace (learning to love ourselves and, then, recognizing ourselves in others).
If, like me, you feel the sadness of losing such unfulfilled potential, such beauty, such promise, honor the legacy. Be illuminated by the lessons of Ms. Houston’s life. Find, never relinquish and teach others to possess the Greatest Love of All. Thank you, Ms. Houston, for sharing your exceptional gifts and, most especially, for the encore of enlightenment.