Saturday, July 31, 2010

michael, may you now be at peace: a reflection (no. 74)

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after i got off the phone with my sister the other night i had to step back, reflect and ask, is it really that bad...?

it's quite a long story, but it has to do with my extensive relationship with death. no, not death in its archetypal form- well yes, that too. but i am referring more to that way in which those of us who grew up in a consistent environment of abuse must work to maintain a level of 're-birth'. a little of each of us 'dies' each day; but for those of us whose spirits have been buried alive over time, obtaining light at a most opportune moment is crucial.

in your eyes i observe that notion of 're-birth'. in the physical, for you, that may have been through performing. i know it was definitely children. for me, it is also children... and cats. and food. my relationship with food is spotty at best- on many levels it is not eaten for comfort, but to hide. nevertheless i love to cook for others.

but i digress...

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i phoned my sister, as i was sad and i needed someone to talk to... i know i can talk to you, but obviously our interactions are of a different element. when she returned my call she was at a friend's house. i didn't want to go into details at that moment (since i knew she was not by herself); nevertheless i responded to her inquiry of "what's up?"

and just as i knew what was to come, did come. "why don't you just conceive then," was essentially her friend's response. my sister, of course, reiterated this assessment. after a few moments of review (without going into much detail) my sister concluded the conversation with, "i'll call you to make sure you didn't jump off a building."

my sister actually says that a lot to me (she even said it referring to my grieving of your transcendence). somehow, it affected me more this time, not only because i thought of the contradiction of me killing myself over the desire to have children in my life; but also because of her expectation that i make attempts to commit suicide every time i feel the slightest tinge of sorrow. it caused me to step back and ask if i ever grew tired of physically living due to my thinking that i'll never be a mother. i also had to ask, do i really seem that sad to my sister?

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i struggle so much with this motherhood thing; due to the responses i don't really expect anyone to grasp anything going on in my mind, despite its simplicity. i have an increasingly intense desire to be a mother and yet, my desire to give birth (or lack thereof) greatly counters this. i could work on getting a job at a nursery, as many have suggested. this would satiate my maternal desires only temporary... as simple as this all is (at least to me), there are so many layers to this narrative. and frankly, i'm not sure where to go.

adopt? i would have done so long ago, if i were able to.

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we've discussed the baby thing several times; i don't need to repeat anything to you. it's funny; because i am now the same age you approached the 'fourth phase' of your artistic life: the 'post-quincy jones' phase, where you assert yourself in another creative form. this is that constant 're-birth' i am speaking of. it is also the period where you began to clearly say "i'm not getting any younger, i need children in my life." i always imagine the sense of loss for you, being around so many children yet having none to raise as your own.

when you actually did assume a theoretical role of a father it got you into trouble, as the ways we define family are so limiting. it was either that your relationship with the children was seen as either infringing on the roles of the biological fathers (thereby presenting charges of child abuse); or it was that you had a 'secret child' as a result of affairs with numerous women.

i can only imagine the limitations you felt you had in terms of a societal rejection of paternal roles with a bit of a maternal sensibility. this is one of the many reasons people were so confused by you. it's difficult to accept a man of your stature not biologically fathering many children (when you could have any lady you want, of course), yet desiring to take on a role of fatherhood, with or without a wife.

so, of course, you were gay; you abused children; you were asexual... there's nothing wrong with two of those three things (if that is how you chose to live your life), but still... to cast aspersions due to our own hopes of what we wish someone to be is one of the least pro-active things we can do. thereby, you also were a lover amongst lovers, with girls on your arm, even right before your transcendence.

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"Needless to say, I love the interaction between the sexes; it is a natural part of life and I love women. I just think that when sex is used as a form of blackmail or power, it's a repugnant use of one of God's gifts. " the thing is, michael, even as this was said, this is difficult for some to grasp. our conditioning of how sex works is so narrow. and because of how sexual relationships are portrayed, we identify in these relationships who is the 'top' and who is the 'bottom'. who is the 'dominant' and who is the 'submissive'. rarely do we ever hear about an equilibrium. even in issues of rape (which has absolutely nothing to do with sex), the rapist gets accused of performing an 'unlawful sex act'.

in many ways i hold this belief; that sex is interspersed with power and dominance. i've seen this throughout my whole life; growing up as a child, and in my adult life as well . it's something i struggle with on many levels. growing up, i thought it was all bad. it was done to hurt or control people. even as an adult i saw the damage. as i got older i did see that some people had successful relationships. still, to me, sexual relationships are extremely private. i prefer those relationships to remain between those involved. i even cringe at public displays of romantic affection, because now everyone can see such a private act. again casting aspersions, people have critiqued me, saying, "well you just haven't found the right person yet." to me, it's not about that. i'm just an old-fashioned person, i guess. with that, there's a lot about relationships i don't know. admittedly i'm naive about many things.

because of this, i wonder if i would even be a good mother. would i shelter my children too much? would they resent me? would i be too controlling? if i ever were to have children in my life would i have someone in my life to share this experience with? would this person in my life share the same connection to our relationship?

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not being a mother right now is really killing me. there is an emptiness i cannot explain. it's not an emptiness of the womb though. i keep saying this, and i don't know if anyone believes me. the truth is, i have an extreme fear of becoming pregnant. if it happens, it happens. there are things i fear more. still, i am filled with distress due to the potentiality of pregnancy. this is called tocophobia (or tokophobia). it's not even that i find pregnancy or childbirth repulsive... i think those are extremely beautiful things- just not for me. it also has nothing to do with pregnancy 'changing my figure'. i'm not concerned with that.

again, i can only imagine your emptiness as the years passed. people demanded so much of you as a performer but all you wanted was to have children, to enhance your life.

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when i finish writing this to you the day my niece (my sister's daughter) was brought to us here on this plane will be here; she will be 9 years old. it makes me so sad that i have not been able to watch her grow, to watch her learn. to only speak with her over the telephone. i don't know if anything i've said to her has retained... she is such a smart, sensitive person though. she is someone of great strength. i know that she's been through some pain, in a former life- and even in this one.

knowing that her day was approaching, i did feel quite sad. i feel as if i'm missing something my sister has the opportunity to celebrate- the existence of her CHILD. i don't feel jealousy toward my sister- that would make NO sense, as my sister has nothing to do with whatever anxieties i am having. i just feel a well of inexplicable sorrow, or anguish at the possibility i'll never have those moments. and that i'll never have a child in my life unless i experience what i fear.

how does one measure the desire to have children with the fear of taking part in that 'naturally'? are you 'less of' a person because of this? is that really something to be measured?

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"When I was a kid, I was denied not only a childhood, but I was denied love. When I reached out to hug my father, he didn't hug me back. When I was scared on an airplane, he didn't put his arm around me and say, "Michael, don't worry. It's going to be OK." When I was scared to go on stage, he said, "get your ass on that stage." … I will never deny a child love. If it means that I have to be crucified or put in jail for it, then that's just what they're going to have to do."

i won't say i was denied a childhood (i actually DID get to play) but really, that's not the only thing which makes a childhood. i, like you, was denied love. the other thing i fear is that i will smother my child so much with love, they will want to avoid me. i have since settled a lot of these things with my mother, but there is still a deep-seated fear of turning into the parent my mother was when i was growing up (and a still-underlying resentment for her actions), and so i will overcompensate so much to the point of smothering.

i know in some ways i'm not ready to have children, but really, who is? parenthood does not come with a manual. you don't just suddenly discover this degree of readiness just because you want to have children. you must be ready for spontaneity, and committing yourself to this beautiful being.

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"Music has been my outlet, my gift to all of the lovers in this world. Through it — my music, I know I will live forever."

through this idea of commitment, it is not the children who will remain forever. the reasoning for naturally birthing children in order to preserve your legacy is essentially false... if you are focusing solely on the existence of the children. what values have you instilled in them? these are the elements which are eternal.

it's like the music you mentioned. i prefer at this point to refer to them as lessons, as this represents a series of values. looking at this quote, it brought me back to when i was an adolescent, writing love poems for others. people questioned why i chose to write love poems for others, when i didn't have someone in my own life (i was an adolescent, mind you). when you wrote or performed the songs you did, it was assumed you were addressing the lyrics to a 'special lady', as opposed to simply presenting a "gift".

to me, having children bears a responsibility of assuring they become knowledgeable, independent and compassionate (sentient) beings... to be selfless, but not 'self-less'. they must know themselves. to ensure this does not require a direct blood lineage. sure, culturally, there are some factors in lineage which are imperative, but right now i am talking about values. again, in casting aspersions/making assumptions, we disregard or ignore this, and focus on whether or not you are the biological father to your three children.

with this, whether or not we knew each other in this life, i know we have known each other in some other life. i believe in the concept of 'deja vu'. when i began becoming acquainted with you and your teachings in this life, i know i was simply RE-acquainting myself. you were not new to me; but really, getting to know you in this time has certainly felt like a 're-birth', because i have learned so much about myself (by learning about you), as well as opening up to the possibilities of learning more.

"take me back where i belong..."

you have accepted me into your life, and i thank you for this. perhaps my commitment to your teachings is, in some ways, preparation for my commitment to be a parent, no matter how 'unconventional.'

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...and these conversations with you also allow me to return to a place i don't necessarily turn to, due to my long-standing fear of rejection.

home. the heart.

"i wanna come home again." returning to that place of self-empowerment, that space of spontaneity and the potentiality for forgiveness.

"if you can find it in your heart to forgive me..."

it's been happening a lot more lately. i've been allowing the space to let love in. it's quite difficult to do on many levels. i've been trying to spend more time outdoors, and quality time with others whose company i appreciate. walking and bicycle riding and badminton playing, many things...

"take me back where i belong..."

that is with you, living within me. thank you.

love,
jamilah

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

michael, may you now be at peace: a reflection (no. 73)

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what is it... what does it mean, to actually be in... love? i think i felt it for the first time this evening. again.

it's not the same as the romantic love you feel towards another person; where you make concerted efforts to connect, in hopes of a future together... granted, i was about 19 years old when i first explored the potentiality of falling 'in love' with another human. i mean, prior to the age of 19 i had 'crushes' on people, but never did i imagine i'd want to spend the rest of my life with these people. and of course the age of rejection did not just usher in at 19; however it was the first time i recall crying about it.

no, this feeling of love is much more than that. coincidentally, this feeling i am speaking of now also occurred when i was 19: this current moment hearkens back to listening to 'maiden voyage' and 'giant steps' (by hancock and coltrane, respectively) and forever falling in love with music. music was always surrounding me since i physically entered this earth; however, i never actually sat and LISTENED until this point of discovery.

discovery... i mean, you knew what you could do when you performed on that stage in pasadena in 1983... i'm sure you even knew that it was a technique that would capture attention, as it was the first time you were on your own; without your brothers at your side. i'm sure you knew that the coup would be in performing SOLO at a motown event. what i am NOT sure you knew was the amount of impact it would make.

considering your open critique of this moment, it was as if you didn't realize what had happened until this little white child approached you, entranced by your skills. ethnicity actually matters here; what you did on stage contributed to a lengthy lineage of black artists... you embodied the legacies of your ancestors and pieced together something which could be instantly recognizable by your own generation... with that, what you did could never be written in the confines of historical context, since it spans so many generations.

how many of us black folk have seen the backslide on soul train numerous times? how many in britain saw the jeffrey daniel performance a year prior, where he represented all of shalimar and performed this gravitational illusion? STILL, we collectively bolted with excitement as you asserted your independence. despite your well-documented struggles with the label which, outside of your father's management, trained you for the life in the business; you embodied that motown success story- a story not many could tell.

in one fell swoop you reached the goal motown strived for- to reach 'white america', and beyond. this is no small feat, considering the obvious history of this country and its institutional mannerisms. for someone to attain such a feat does not come without challenges and subsequent accusations of losing a sense of 'self/blackness'. still, you rose to the occasion.

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i will be the first to admit that that 'motown 25 performance' (for lack of a better term) is not my favourite; in fact, whenever i watch you live it's one of those performances i tend to skip (except for the one in bucharest from the dangerous tour- that is the ONLY performance of 'billie jean' i will watch in its entirety). however, i do observe the evolution of your performance of the song. the confidence you exude the more you perform it is remarkable. with that, even though 'billie jean' is one of those live performances i tend to skip, i am fascinated with watching you with the sound off. in that respect the work of a teacher occurs, as you merge vaudeville, the chitlin' circuit, the streets, the cinema, and more, into your imagination. the dilemma exists when you're always expected to 'moonwalk', as opposed to representing the fluidity/universal nature of our creativity.

one of the greatest lessons we got was on the 1988 rendition of the grammy awards, where you performed a medley, concluding with 'man in the mirror'. those who have not seen you live (at that point on your first solo tour) have not seen the full impact of your teachings. but we all got a taste of it, when the choir came out.

as with 'billie jean' (and many others) i got frustrated when you lip synced- "what's wrong with him??!! that man can SING!!!" i cried. and so it goes... you did lip sync 'man in the mirror'- until the vamp at the end. what happened there was not a performance- it was a spiritual revelation (out of many). it was a call to action. it was a lesson. i don't know how many people took you up on this call to action; but i can tell you that many recognized your message.

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watching 'billie jean' in silence i recognize that same energy; it's not 'magic' in a supernatural or fantastical way. it's a transformative energy. it's that connection with the ancestors which prevents stagnation.

i suspect looking at all of this is due to a culmination of experiences i had today. like, seeing a dragonfly up close for the first time ever- usually, they fly past you so quickly, right over your head... unfortunately, this dragonfly froze to the point of transition in the midst of travel. he was stuck on a piece of lettuce at my work. when i went outside to free him, he fell right to the ground.

rarely do you ever get to clearly see the wings of insects in flight... i got to recently see a film of a ladybug in flight, at half-speed. it was absolutely breathtaking. the strength in which the wings flapped appeared to belie the elegance and detail. having the opportunity to see a dragonfly's wings as he lay still fascinated me so. i had hoped that he would be able to wake up from the cold and proceed to search for his family, but that was not to be. and with that, i was able to marvel at his grace... with every transition is a birth.

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this is the first time in a long time i have had the desire to explore the world outside of what is going on in my own mind... yes, i always have a desire to learn from others and their experiences; but this is the first summer in years, living here in portland, that i can recall just allowing myself to live spontaneously. i have found it so easy to not do that here, either due to work or some other responsibility. and weariness.

and yes, doing things like a little bicycle ride (outside of obligation), just because, helps a whole lot. it really does assist in how the brain processes things, when the brain meets with oxygen.

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back inside from the ride, as i was writing this i decided to listen to some music. i decided to place on the turntable several songs which have been in my head the past number of days. in the midst of this one of your songs came up. of course.

this is another stage i am entering with you. one of many stages which have occurred spiritually, and subconsciously. i don't think this will be the final stage we encounter.

'i can't help it' was the song... it is, in fact, my favourite of yours. it is the greatest piece of modern popular music i have ever heard in my life. STEVIE WONDER contributing to its conception (along with susaye green) i'm sure is an aspect of this reasoning. i'm definitely sure of that. STEVIE being the creative father and you the son undoubtedly presents teachings which are timeless.

nevertheless, i put the 45 on; and suddenly this wave of energy flowed throughout my body in a way it hadn't with the other songs. it was a sort of electromagnetic energy occurring. it was pulling me up. it was as if a light i could not see was surrounding me.

it was the only song of yours i was listening to at that moment. this energy did not exist for me for the rest of the evening. to me, i was no longer listening to a song; it was true love i was listening to.

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when i was at work earlier i was thinking a whole lot about music consisting purely of energy (this was inspired by beyonce being played, as well as the suggestion that gaga be put on a playlist). there was some music being played; sort of like a european techno type of music. as this was going on i thought of music consisting of waves of (vibrational) energy, affecting our moods and sensibilities. i recalled listening to loud, angry, aggressive music when i was younger, because that was the mindset i was in.

i began to think about how a song could represent true love and true anger. and then this moment happened. when that energy built up inside of me i no longer heard notes, but i saw vibrations. i saw them. it's the same way i feel when i watch you perform 'billie jean', with no sound. the song is so limiting in light of the energy which is produced from your movements.

tonight, just like fifteen years ago, i had the opportunity to see, and not just hear, a piece of music. i feel so fortunate to have fallen in love again. to see the intricacies of the wings, and to fly.

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now that i think about it, it is not a 'falling' which occurs; in these transformative moments we are moving up with, and through, love.

love,
jamilah

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

michael, may you now be at peace: a reflection (no. 72)

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is there something in 'thinking too much'? i mean; is there even such a thing as 'thinking too much'? it's like, every waking day my brain is filled with thoughts, until my body rests again. sometimes i have so many thoughts i have to digress, yet to return to the original place. is that 'too much'? or is that me just having to learn to how better organize these thoughts? i had to actually learn that quickly, when i decided to do radio.

of course, just like there's so much music in the world, there's so many thoughts. and as you know, how you reach the people is important. with this, i reach a point in frustration, not necessarily because i don't think i am reaching people (if you have reached one person, there is a potential for great positive change) but because sometimes i wonder if the message is clear.

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it's really difficult for me to vocally communicate with people. (why do i do a medium like radio then? i have no idea). i always wish there was a way for me to convey the same exact thing through writing... i love to write so very much. even if you were physically here right now and we were talking i'd still write you really long letters, conveying my emotions. one time i wrote a friend of mine a 96-page letter (and yes, this was by hand)... as i said, there are so many thoughts in my head; sentences inspired by paragraphs, inspired by events. if i could spend time just listening to others, then responding in the written word i'd be perfectly happy. i don't articulate myself as well when i speak, and the words just flow better from my head when i write.

perhaps my desire to not speak has something to do with that spontaneity, in relation to vulnerability.

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in many ways i'm actually more revealing when i write, but still i feel as if i am scrutinized more when i speak. i feel that people want more from me when i speak, and somehow that is taking something away from me. it all goes back to what we talked about a couple of days ago, i'm sure... that reverting back to the childhood fears.

is that something a therapist would help with? i don't know; i have seen quite a few throughout my life, and still these fears attach themselves to me. or rather, i allow them to.

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one thing that has helped is being outside, where i get to indulge in play. i've not been wanting to sit here in my room all day. i can attribute part of this to having to get up so much earlier. when i finish work i want to spend time with lumbia, and i want to go and ride my bicycle. and i want to be with people. i need that spontaneity and companionship in my life again. these past few days i have been exploring worlds i knew nothing about, and learning about other people in these worlds.

i long for a time where i can just explore, where i can roam. emotionally i don't get to that place a lot (i have so many fears i have not even discussed with you here) but i try to say the mantra of every day alive being a good day... every step i take is a step i could make to get to this place. i am making a conscious effort this summer to take those steps.

with this, i give thought to your lament, upon reflecting on your childhood (or lack thereof). "it's been my fate to compensate for the childhood i've never known"... in a funny way, your plea for others to examine before they judge is apologetic... you are illustrating a world in which you indulge in (whether or not it's in your mind) but really, you shouldn't have to explain being yourself to anyone. ultimately though, the song is a call for others to look in their subconscious mirror; either for the child within, or for their own imperfections.

i have to remember this when i judge myself so harshly. i have to think- when i speak, someone is actually listening and engaging.

every day alive is a good day. a new day to explore, to learn, to continue to be myself, whether writing or speaking. to not have to compensate for any missing pieces. to know that thinking is sharing, and living.

thank you for sharing these lessons with me.

love,
jamilah

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

michael, may you now be at peace: a reflection (no. 71)

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i was just tired but again, i cannot sleep... i've been writing myself to sleep as of late, as my body is still becoming used to this ever-altering schedule i am working with. i was on my way home, ready to resort to an evening of coconut yogurt eating and nap-taking (with possibly a short bicycle ride), and i see a friend of mine, who yells out my name from his car. it was a nice surprise to see him, as we made plans to do something together later this week. i always love these moments of spontaneity; i don't have them as much in my life these days, and as i said to you some time ago i miss those moments greatly.

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we ended up going to eat a very nice dinner (at one of the few places i go out to eat- i love those people, and they appreciate you too! they always put on your music/lessons for me when i come in, it's very sweet); and we talked for many hours, watching the sun descend by the lake.

it is bewildering to me... we have known each other for a number of years and consider ourselves to be friends (friendship carries varying degrees but you know it when you see it), and this is the first time we've actually related to each other on such an intense level. as intense a person as i am, i must say that this frightened me. i realise this is an extreme word for the experience, but this is the only word i feel which can accurately describe my emotions surrounding this interaction.

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i have an intense fear of these moments... everything i am saying is a contradiction. intensity is an aspect of spontaneity. for any sort of relationship to pro-actively grow, spontaneity is imperative. however, vulnerability frightens me. rejection frightens me. i hate getting too close to people because i always expect something bad to happen. that people will use or shun me. even though i share friendships with people of 15 years, either geography or gradual life events (like marriage) have given way to distance. my constant need for connection dominates the situation, and so i dive in. and then i realize what i then got myself into. and i become very tense.

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this intensity leads to flashbacks, and the sad realization that i still have so much work to do on myself. and sometimes i hate it because it's as if i will never get better. i'm so much older, and i'm still like this frightened little girl who hates herself, and can't look at herself. why can't i just accept peoples' compliments? the back of my mind still reads the opposite. it digs at me that i have gotten so much better at so many other things in my life, and that is the one thing that is most difficult to accept, that someone can say something nice about me.

"if i did this i'd look/feel so much better..." it's not even about impressing people or trying to please anyone; if i did these certain things i would feel much better FOR ME. i hate when people look at me and sometimes i want to disappear. this is what vulnerability is like for me. it's as if everyone is ogling me. i remember always hiding my face when i was younger, never looking at people, my head poised downward. i still retain some of that to this day. i get uncomfortable when people look at me, in intense conversation.

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in the midst of this intense conversation this evening i was near tears. i realize that, even though i have healed from much of what happened to me in some ways; it's extremely difficult to return to that space. without reverting back to that frightened little girl. it makes me realize i haven't healed as much as i think, or would like to. and so i sort of avoid going into details about certain events in my life, in order not to return to this space. i feel so trapped in my experience sometimes, and i truly hate it. it keeps me up at night sometimes. it guides how i view relationships in some ways as well.

it makes me think of when bashir interviewed you, pleading you to return to that space. it was painful to watch you describe what your father did to you. no child should ever have to go through that.

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in so many ways though, as i shared aspects of myself with him (and allowed the vulnerability to occur), as he shared aspects of himself with me; simultaneously i felt your energy. i felt a closeness with you and in your teachings. again, i am thinking about your speech at oxford; in particular the part in which you speak on forgiveness.

the dilemma is, even though i have essentially forgiven my mother for what's happened over the years i still have yet to truly forgive myself. vulnerability is also a huge factor in the act of forgiveness.

i need to learn/know to. forgive. myself. thanks for giving me these moments to remind me.

love,
jamilah

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

michael, may you now be at peace: a reflection (no. 70)

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anxieties abound... things, emotions change so rapidly, second by second. life is passing me by so quickly i would say, but that's not exactly what i want to say. i see three gray hairs on my head now (which makes me very happy, since i love gray hair). at the same time it's a reminder of me getting older. as i always speak of my hope of being that old lady with a house-full of cats; i become distressed (to afraid) that i'll never have children in my life.

newborns with their wide eyes...

i do want to get back to your eyes for a second. i had to run to go to the show last night but i really wanted to talk about your eyes. i'm struggling with what i want to say about them right now. because emotionally, i am cluttered, but not really. more than anything i feel emotionally overwhelmed. and i look at your eyes, these large, deep brown instruments of sadness; and i feel a sort of serenity right now. even though i see lifetimes of sorrow and fear through them (sometimes even screaming, 'don't hit me') through all of this i feel a wave of calmness lately.

ultimately, lifetimes are what i see through you. narratives one cannot even speak through voice. such beauty can only consist of boundless vibrations. i saw them, and it was as if they were the only thing that mattered.

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even with your beauty, i see in a newborn's eyes what i have not seen in yours: sheer wonder. i have been meeting so many people who are new to the world, within days or weeks. their eyes are open so wide, exploring their surroundings, gauging to see if the outside world is as sympathetic to their experience. i so much as hear screams, cries and coos, i must run over and welcome the little one into this world, in my own way. some just stare, blinking; some smile and clap, drooling in a relaxed gesture. the variety of babies is so amazing, so fascinating... what's ultimately more fascinating is how, no matter how new one is to the world, the instinct to explore is immediately there. this aspect of life is so divine.

i have to do something. i have to be pro-active in my desire to have children in my life.

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another day after work... i was walking down the street with the bicycle (and little michael in tow) and i was surrounded by several children (and an adult), who were fascinated with little michael. "that's michael!" they exclaimed. one of the smallest girls was especially curious, so i gave her little michael to hold. she played with the miniature bicycle wheels and mentioned how her scooter was pink. "and mine is green," i said.

another little girl asked, "do you remember me?" it was maureen, the little girl i had a conversation with a number of days ago.. she's such a sweet, smart and charming little girl (all of those kids are). i think she is going to the third grade in the fall. when i first met her she was discussing some of her favourite books. maureen couldn't remember my name, so i told her.

as i got on the bicycle to ride home i thought about how moments like that always make my day. and now i realize that this may be what i experience in order to honor my moments with children.

this is what i must remember. and what i also must remember is that these brief moments with you are always something to cherish, no matter how jumbled or anxious the situation is.

love,
jamilah

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Monday, July 19, 2010

michael, may you now be at peace: a reflection (no. 69)

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tonight i am getting ready to go out to see a show... i don't really go out to see shows too much these days (and being that i have to get up so early these days, i don't really go out at all). ironically, the last show i saw was the one we did in honor of you a few months back. for the show tonight though i got a 'ticket' by calling in a radio show. but i did wanna tell you this thing, really quickly.

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the other day, a man came up to me and mentioned that someone i know told him he should speak with me. "she told me to tell you my michael jackson story," he smiled. yes you should, i exclaimed.

this man (who goes by the name of mike) did some antique dealing in a town in california. he told me he saw a huge bus, bigger than the average tour bus, pull up to the area. out you came, with two large latino security men. he specifically mentioned how the security men wore the finest pieces of clothes.

he then mentioned how he saw a man dressed up like a sheik- automatically coming to the conclusion that it was you. "aaaah, the 'sheik' period," i responded. "that was about the mid-90s or so?" (i actually met someone else who met you during this period as well, when you were in san francisco looking at record shops). mike said it was around this time. he mentioned that this was right before your speech at oxford; this would actually make this 2001 when you both met.

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you told mike you were looking for art relating to child abuse for your presentation at oxford. he looked for what he could; he showed you various things in his collection. one item he said he did show you was an image of bing crosby in blackface. he did mention this to me matter-of-factly, but he also asked himself why he chose to show it to you.

"oh wow", you said... then you showed the image to the security men, to their consternation. i thought that was pretty funny when he told me this part of the story. i could totally see you, fascinated by this aspect of cinematic history, whether or not you agreed with the philosophy (ala walt disney)... i don't know if you found whatever it was you wanted to find, but mike definitely cherished your presence, it seems.

because you were dressed like a 'sheik', all mike could see was your eyes. he got a bit emotional when talking about your eyes. they were eyes of love, he said. there were a couple of more adjectives, but that is the word i definitely remember him mentioning. love. he could feel the love in your eyes. we spoke about the eyes being that mode of which vibration can be seen, about how you spoke through a series of vibrational energies, and how clear that could be for anyone who paid attention, or was in tune with that.

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as you know, your eyes are my favourite thing about you, physically. they are the most beautiful eyes i have ever seen in my life. their sheer sadness astounds me. there is a beauty in those eyes; yet there's also a tragedy in how they could remain so sad over time.

here is the speech you gave at oxford, made in march of 2001. when i first heard it i was so touched. when i read the transcript some time later, my eyes teared up. you were given such a gift to reach people, and this was only one of the many. and as i mentioned to you before, you message became more urgent over time:

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" Thank you, thank you dear friends, from the bottom of my heart, for such a loving and spirited welcome, and thank you, Mr President, for your kind invitation to me which I am so honoured to accept. I also want to express a special thanks to you Shmuley, who for 11 years served as Rabbi here at Oxford. You and I have been working so hard to form Heal the Kids, as well as writing our book about childlike qualities, and in all of our efforts you have been such a supportive and loving friend. And I would also like to thank Toba Friedman, our director of operations at Heal the Kids, who is returning tonight to the alma mater where she served as a Marshall scholar, as well as Marilyn Piels, another central member of our Heal the Kids team.

I am humbled to be lecturing in a place that has previously been filled by such notable figures as Mother Theresa, Albert Einstein, Ronald Reagan, Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X. I've even heard that Kermit the Frog has made an appearance here, and I've always felt a kinship with Kermit's message that it's not easy being green. I'm sure he didn't find it any easier being up here than I do!

As I looked around Oxford today, I couldn't help but be aware of the majesty and grandeur of this great institution, not to mention the brilliance of the great and gifted minds that have roamed these streets for centuries. The walls of Oxford have not only housed the greatest philosophical and scientific geniuses - they have also ushered forth some of the most cherished creators of children's literature, from J.R.R. Tolkien to CS Lewis. Today I was allowed to hobble into the dining hall in Christ Church to see Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland immortalised in the stained glass windows. And even one of my own fellow Americans, the beloved Dr Seuss graced these halls and then went on to leave his mark on the imaginations of millions of children throughout the world.

I suppose I should start by listing my qualifications to speak before you this evening. Friends, I do not claim to have the academic expertise of other speakers who have addressed this hall, just as they could lay little claim at being adept at the moonwalk - and you know, Einstein in particular was really TERRIBLE at that.

But I do have a claim to having experienced more places and cultures than most people will ever see. Human knowledge consists not only of libraries of parchment and ink - it is also comprised of the volumes of knowledge that are written on the human heart, chiseled on the human soul, and engraved on the human psyche. And friends, I have encountered so much in this relatively short life of mine that I still cannot believe I am only 42. I often tell Shmuley that in soul years I'm sure that I'm at least 80 - and tonight I even walk like I'm 80! So please harken to my message, because what I have to tell you tonight can bring healing to humanity and healing to our planet.

Through the grace of God, I have been fortunate to have achieved many of my artistic and professional aspirations realised early in my lifetime. But these, friends are accomplishments, and accomplishments alone are not synonymous with who I am. Indeed, the cheery five-year-old who belted out Rockin' Robin and Ben to adoring crowds was not indicative of the boy behind the smile.

Tonight, I come before you less as an icon of pop (whatever that means anyway), and more as an icon of a generation, a generation that no longer knows what it means to be children.

All of us are products of our childhood. But I am the product of a lack of a childhood, an absence of that precious and wondrous age when we frolic playfully without a care in the world, basking in the adoration of parents and relatives, where our biggest concern is studying for that big spelling test come Monday morning.

Those of you who are familiar with the Jackson Five know that I began performing at the tender age of five and that ever since then, I haven't stopped dancing or singing. But while performing and making music undoubtedly remain as some of my greatest joys, when I was young I wanted more than anything else to be a typical little boy. I wanted to build tree houses, have water balloon fights, and play hide and seek with my friends. But fate had it otherwise and all I could do was envy the laughter and playtime that seemed to be going on all around me.

There was no respite from my professional life. But on Sundays I would go Pioneering, the term used for the missionary work that Jehovah's Witnesses do. And it was then that I was able to see the magic of other people's childhood.

Since I was already a celebrity, I would have to don a disguise of fat suit, wig, beard and glasses and we would spend the day in the suburbs of Southern California, going door-to-door or making the rounds of shopping malls, distributing our Watchtower magazine. I loved to set foot in all those regular suburban houses and catch sight of the shag rugs and La-Z-Boy armchairs with kids playing Monopoly and grandmas baby-sitting and all those wonderful, ordinary and starry scenes of everyday life. Many, I know, would argue that these things seem like no big deal. But to me they were mesmerising.

I used to think that I was unique in feeling that I was without a childhood. I believed that indeed there were only a handful with whom I could share those feelings. When I recently met with Shirley Temple Black, the great child star of the 1930s and 40s, we said nothing to each other at first, we simply cried together, for she could share a pain with me that only others like my close friends Elizabeth Taylor and McCauley Culkin know.

I do not tell you this to gain your sympathy but to impress upon you my first important point : It is not just Hollywood child stars that have suffered from a non-existent childhood. Today, it's a universal calamity, a global catastrophe. Childhood has become the great casualty of modern-day living. All around us we are producing scores of kids who have not had the joy, who have not been accorded the right, who have not been allowed the freedom, or knowing what it's like to be a kid.

Today children are constantly encouraged to grow up faster, as if this period known as childhood is a burdensome stage, to be endured and ushered through, as swiftly as possible. And on that subject, I am certainly one of the world's greatest experts.

Ours is a generation that has witnessed the abrogation of the parent-child covenant. Psychologists are publishing libraries of books detailing the destructive effects of denying one's children the unconditional love that is so necessary to the healthy development of their minds and character. And because of all the neglect, too many of our kids have, essentially, to raise themselves. They are growing more distant from their parents, grandparents and other family members, as all around us the indestructible bond that once glued together the generations, unravels.

This violation has bred a new generation, Generation O let us call it, that has now picked up the torch from Generation X. The O stands for a generation that has everything on the outside - wealth, success, fancy clothing and fancy cars, but an aching emptiness on the inside. That cavity in our chests, that barrenness at our core, that void in our centre is the place where the heart once beat and which love once occupied.

And it's not just the kids who are suffering. It's the parents as well. For the more we cultivate little-adults in kids'-bodies, the more removed we ourselves become from our own child-like qualities, and there is so much about being a child that is worth retaining in adult life.

Love, ladies and gentlemen, is the human family's most precious legacy, its richest bequest, its golden inheritance. And it is a treasure that is handed down from one generation to another. Previous ages may not have had the wealth we enjoy. Their houses may have lacked electricity, and they squeezed their many kids into small homes without central heating. But those homes had no darkness, nor were they cold. They were lit bright with the glow of love and they were warmed snugly by the very heat of the human heart. Parents, undistracted by the lust for luxury and status, accorded their children primacy in their lives.

As you all know, our two countries broke from each other over what Thomas Jefferson referred to as "certain inalienable rights". And while we Americans and British might dispute the justice of his claims, what has never been in dispute is that children have certain inalienable rights, and the gradual erosion of those rights has led to scores of children worldwide being denied the joys and security of childhood.

I would therefore like to propose tonight that we install in every home a Children's Universal Bill of Rights, the tenets of which are:

1. The right to be loved without having to earn it

2. The right to be protected, without having to deserve it

3. The right to feel valuable, even if you came into the world with nothing

4. The right to be listened to without having to be interesting

5. The right to be read a bedtime story, without having to compete with the evening news

6. The right to an education without having to dodge bullets at schools

7. The right to be thought of as adorable - (even if you have a face that only a mother could love).

Friends, the foundation of all human knowledge, the beginning of human consciousness, must be that each and every one of us is an object of love. Before you know if you have red hair or brown, before you know if you are black or white, before you know of what religion you are a part, you have to know that you are loved.

About twelve years ago, when I was just about to start my Bad tour, a little boy came with his parents to visit me at home in California. He was dying of cancer and he told me how much he loved my music and me. His parents told me that he wasn't going to live, that any day he could just go, and I said to him: "Look, I am going to be coming to your town in Kansas to open my tour in three months. I want you to come to the show. I am going to give you this jacket that I wore in one of my videos." His eyes lit up and he said: "You are gonna GIVE it to me?" I said "Yeah, but you have to promise that you will wear it to the show." I was trying to make him hold on. I said: "When you come to the show I want to see you in this jacket and in this glove" and I gave him one of my rhinestone gloves - and I never usually give the rhinestone gloves away. And he was just in heaven.

But maybe he was too close to heaven, because when I came to his town, he had already died, and they had buried him in the glove and jacket. He was just 10 years old. God knows, I know, that he tried his best to hold on. But at least when he died, he knew that he was loved, not only by his parents, but even by me, a near stranger, I also loved him. And with all of that love he knew that he didn't come into this world alone, and he certainly didn't leave it alone.

If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can he dealt with. A professor may degrade you, but you will not feel degraded, a boss may crush you, but you will not be crushed, a corporate gladiator might vanquish you, but you will still triumph. How could any of them truly prevail in pulling you down? For you know that you are an object worthy of love. The rest is just packaging.

But if you don't have that memory of being loved, you are condemned to search the world for something to fill you up. But no matter how much money you make or how famous you become, you will still fell empty. What you are really searching for is unconditional love, unqualified acceptance. And that was the one thing that was denied to you at birth.

Friends, let me paint a picture for you. Here is a typical day in America - six youths under the age of 20 will commit suicide, 12 children under the age of 20 will die from firearms - remember this is a DAY, not a year - 399 kids will be arrested for drug abuse, 1,352 babies will be born to teen mothers. This is happening in one of the richest, most developed countries in the history of the world.

Yes, in my country there is an epidemic of violence that parallels no other industrialised nation. These are the ways young people in America express their hurt and their anger. But don't think that there is not the same pain and anguish among their counterparts in the United Kingdom. Studies in this country show that every single hour, three teenagers in the UK inflict harm upon themselves, often by cutting or burning their bodies or taking an overdose. This is how they have chosen to cope with the pain of neglect and emotional agony.

In Britain, as many as 20% of families will only sit down and have dinner together once a year. Once a year! And what about the time-honoured tradition of reading your kid a bedtime story? Research from the 1980s showed that children who are read to, had far greater literacy and significantly outperformed their peers at school. And yet, less than 33% of British children ages two to eight have a regular bedtime story read to them. You may not think much of that until you take into account that 75% of their parents DID have that bedtime story when they were that age.

Clearly, we do not have to ask ourselves where all of this pain, anger and violent behaviour comes from. It is self-evident that children are thundering against the neglect, quaking against the indifference and crying out just to be noticed. The various child protection agencies in the US say that millions of children are victims of maltreatment in the form of neglect, in the average year. Yes, neglect. In rich homes, privileged homes, wired to the hilt with every electronic gadget. Homes where parents come home, but they're not really home, because their heads are still at the office. And their kids? Well, their kids just make do with whatever emotional crumbs they get. And you don't get much from endless TV, computer games and videos.

These hard, cold numbers which for me, wrench the soul and shake the spirit, should indicate to you why I have devoted so much of my time and resources into making our new Heal the Kids initiative a colossal success.

Our goal is simple - to recreate the parent/child bond, renew its promise and light the way forward for all the beautiful children who are destined one day to walk this earth.

But since this is my first public lecture, and you have so warmly welcomed me into your hearts, I feel that I want to tell you more. We each have our own story, and in that sense statistics can become personal.

They say that parenting is like dancing. You take one step, your child takes another. I have discovered that getting parents to re-dedicate themselves to their children is only half the story. The other half is preparing the children to re-accept their parents.

When I was very young I remember that we had this crazy mutt of a dog named "Black Girl," a mix of wolf and retriever. Not only wasn't she much of a guard dog, she was such a scared and nervous thing that it is a wonder she did not pass out every time a truck rumbled by, or a thunderstorm swept through Indiana. My sister Janet and I gave that dog so much love, but we never really won back the sense of trust that had been stolen from her by her previous owner. We knew he used to beat her. We didn't know with what. But whatever it was, it was enough to suck the spirit right out of that dog.

A lot of kids today are hurt puppies who have weaned themselves off the need for love. They couldn't care less about their parents. Left to their own devices, they cherish their independence. They have moved on and have left their parents behind.

Then there are the far worse cases of children who harbour animosity and resentment toward their parents, so that any overture that their parents might undertake would be thrown forcefully back in their face.

Tonight, I don't want any of us to make this mistake. That's why I'm calling upon all the world's children - beginning with all of us here tonight - to forgive our parents, if we felt neglected. Forgive them and teach them how to love again.

You probably weren't surprised to hear that I did not have an idyllic childhood. The strain and tension that exists in my relationship with my own father is well documented. My father is a tough man and he pushed my brothers and me hard, from the earliest age, to be the best performers we could be.

He had great difficulty showing affection. He never really told me he loved me. And he never really complimented me either. If I did a great show, he would tell me it was a good show. And if I did an OK show, he told me it was a lousy show.

He seemed intent, above all else, on making us a commercial success. And at that he was more than adept. My father was a managerial genius and my brothers and I owe our professional success, in no small measure, to the forceful way that he pushed us. He trained me as a showman and under his guidance I couldn't miss a step.

But what I really wanted was a Dad. I wanted a father who showed me love. And my father never did that. He never said I love you while looking me straight in the eye, he never played a game with me. He never gave me a piggyback ride, he never threw a pillow at me, or a water balloon.

But I remember once when I was about four years old, there was a little carnival and he picked me up and put me on a pony. It was a tiny gesture, probably something he forgot five minutes later. But because of that moment I have this special place in my heart for him. Because that's how kids are, the little things mean so much to them and for me, that one moment meant everything. I only experienced it that one time, but it made me feel really good, about him and the world.

But now I am a father myself, and one day I was thinking about my own children, Prince and Paris and how I wanted them to think of me when they grow up. To be sure, I would like them to remember how I always wanted them with me wherever I went, how I always tried to put them before everything else. But there are also challenges in their lives. Because my kids are stalked by paparazzi, they can't always go to a park or a movie with me.

So what if they grow older and resent me, and how my choices impacted their youth? Why weren't we given an average childhood like all the other kids, they might ask? And at that moment I pray that my children will give me the benefit of the doubt. That they will say to themselves: "Our daddy did the best he could, given the unique circumstances that he faced. He may not have been perfect, but he was a warm and decent man, who tried to give us all the love in the world."

I hope that they will always focus on the positive things, on the sacrifices I willingly made for them, and not criticise the things they had to give up, or the errors I've made, and will certainly continue to make, in raising them. For we have all been someone's child, and we know that despite the very best of plans and efforts, mistakes will always occur. That's just being human.

And when I think about this, of how I hope that my children will not judge me unkindly, and will forgive my shortcomings, I am forced to think of my own father and despite my earlier denials, I am forced to admit that me must have loved me. He did love me, and I know that.

There were little things that showed it. When I was a kid I had a real sweet tooth - we all did. My favourite food was glazed doughnuts and my father knew that. So every few weeks I would come downstairs in the morning and there on the kitchen counter was a bag of glazed doughnuts - no note, no explanation - just the doughnuts. It was like Santa Claus.

Sometimes I would think about staying up late at night, so I could see him leave them there, but just like with Santa Claus, I didn't want to ruin the magic for fear that he would never do it again. My father had to leave them secretly at night, so as no one might catch him with his guard down. He was scared of human emotion, he didn't understand it or know how to deal with it. But he did know doughnuts.

And when I allow the floodgates to open up, there are other memories that come rushing back, memories of other tiny gestures, however imperfect, that showed that he did what he could. So tonight, rather than focusing on what my father didn't do, I want to focus on all the things he did do and on his own personal challenges. I want to stop judging him.

I have started reflecting on the fact that my father grew up in the South, in a very poor family. He came of age during the Depression and his own father, who struggled to feed his children, showed little affection towards his family and raised my father and his siblings with an iron fist. Who could have imagined what it was like to grow up a poor black man in the South, robbed of dignity, bereft of hope, struggling to become a man in a world that saw my father as subordinate. I was the first black artist to be played on MTV and I remember how big a deal it was even then. And that was in the 80s!

My father moved to Indiana and had a large family of his own, working long hours in the steel mills, work that kills the lungs and humbles the spirit, all to support his family. Is it any wonder that he found it difficult to expose his feelings? Is it any mystery that he hardened his heart, that he raised the emotional ramparts? And most of all, is it any wonder why he pushed his sons so hard to succeed as performers, so that they could be saved from what he knew to be a life of indignity and poverty?

I have begun to see that even my father's harshness was a kind of love, an imperfect love, to be sure, but love nonetheless. He pushed me because he loved me. Because he wanted no man ever to look down at his offspring.

And now with time, rather than bitterness, I feel blessing. In the place of anger, I have found absolution. And in the place of revenge I have found reconciliation. And my initial fury has slowly given way to forgiveness.

Almost a decade ago, I founded a charity called Heal the World. The title was something I felt inside me. Little did I know, as Shmuley later pointed out, that those two words form the cornerstone of Old Testament prophecy. Do I really believe that we can heal this world, that is riddled with war and genocide, even today? And do I really think that we can heal our children, the same children who can enter their schools with guns and hatred and shoot down their classmates, like they did at Columbine? Or children who can beat a defenceless toddler to death, like the tragic story of Jamie Bulger? Of course I do, or I wouldn't be here tonight.

But it all begins with forgiveness, because to heal the world, we first have to heal ourselves. And to heal the kids, we first have to heal the child within, each and every one of us. As an adult, and as a parent, I realise that I cannot be a whole human being, nor a parent capable of unconditional love, until I put to rest the ghosts of my own childhood.

And that's what I'm asking all of us to do tonight. Live up to the fifth of the Ten Commandments. Honour your parents by not judging them. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

That is why I want to forgive my father and to stop judging him. I want to forgive my father, because I want a father, and this is the only one that I've got. I want the weight of my past lifted from my shoulders and I want to be free to step into a new relationship with my father, for the rest of my life, unhindered by the goblins of the past.

In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.

To all of you tonight who feel let down by your parents, I ask you to let down your disappointment. To all of you tonight who feel cheated by your fathers or mothers, I ask you not to cheat yourself further. And to all of you who wish to push your parents away, I ask you to extend you hand to them instead. I am asking you, I am asking myself, to give our parents the gift of unconditional love, so that they too may learn how to love from us, their children. So that love will finally be restored to a desolate and lonely world.

Shmuley once mentioned to me an ancient Biblical prophecy which says that a new world and a new time would come, when "the hearts of the parents would be restored through the hearts of their children". My friends, we are that world, we are those children.

Mahatma Gandhi said: "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Tonight, be strong. Beyond being strong, rise to the greatest challenge of all - to restore that broken covenant. We must all overcome whatever crippling effects our childhoods may have had on our lives and in the words of Jesse Jackson, forgive each other, redeem each other and move on.

This call for forgiveness may not result in Oprah moments the world over, with thousands of children making up with their parents, but it will at least be a start, and we'll all be so much happier as a result.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I conclude my remarks tonight with faith, joy and excitement.

From this day forward, may a new song be heard.

Let that new song be the sound of children laughing.

Let that new song be the sound of children playing.

Let that new song be the sound of children singing.

And let that new song be the sound of parents listening.

Together, let us create a symphony of hearts, marveling at the miracle of our children and basking in the beauty of love.

Let us heal the world and blight its pain.

And may we all make beautiful music together.

God bless you, and I love you."

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this is especially chilling: "I have encountered so much in this relatively short life of mine that I still cannot believe I am only 42." because you really were so young. and it was as if you lived for lifetimes. but you have, and you will continue to.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE, AND TAUGHT ME, AND CONTINUE TO. it takes a very long time to heal from much of the pain we have experienced, but this speech clearly was a part of a long journey, which you chose to share with us.

love,
jamilah

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Friday, July 16, 2010

michael, may you now be at peace: a reflection (no. 68)

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at work, just like at home, i get to take a lot of insects outside... i don't like killing them really. i also realize that many insects serve their purposes in the natural order of things (like making honey, eating mosquitoes, etc.). living here in oregon i see so many species i have never seen in my life i just always take them outside.

with that, i always think about if they will survive the elements outside. i'm not really sure how a lot of them survive inside... i am always curious to find where the anthill begins, and where they lead to; where the moths get their food in the house; where spiders go throughout the day to forage, when they are not resting in their nests.

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i have also been curious about the little baby insects you see around- when were they born, and in what condition? do the insects cry in birth sometimes like humans do? do they know their mother or father? how do they get around in such a big world, as small as they are?

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i'm not trying to make a case for anthropomorphizing insects (or other species); i do know that, like every other species on earth everybody wants respect and nourishment.

and freedom. to fly. to be free from constraints.

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it's hard being a parent, i know it is. and as a parent you want to be able to do the right thing, and know your children are going to grow into respectable, independent people. you want to encourage their curiosity, but you also want to protect them. every parent has their own medium- some adapt better than others; and yet it seems as if this line is a commonality between parents all over the world.

at this point i see a child yelling with joy (or even shedding some tears), and i feel as if that's what i want in my life right now.... that growing need to nurture and protect a child. i think i always wanted kids, so i could raise them better than how i grew up. "i'm not gonna yell at them and call them ugly and stupid." back then i had a dire need for validation; i needed to know that i could be worthy of motherhood. that i could prove i was good at something. these days, it's not so much wanting validation than really feeling my nurturing side kick in heavily. i see so many little ones, and it kills me that i'm not yet there. it kills me even more when the parents of these children say, "you are so great with kids, you'd be a great mother." i have been asked a couple of times if i was a mother. i have been around babies so much that at times i can recognize the different types of cries and gestures.

i know that i still struggle with 'not wanting to be like my mother'. i love my mother dearly, and she's had struggles herself. still, i think about how i grew up with her, and i have this huge fear about motherhood. i don't want to resemble my mother in that way.

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even though i sense some sort of anger with your mother through looking at your body language over the years (i think this is the experience, from a child to a mother at times); i also see a sense of nurturing and protection with her as well.

granted, you may have seen some of your father in yourself (in terms of genes); however, as i have said before you strongly resemble your mother. i don't see any of your father there, as i do with the rest of your brothers. i also notice that when you are around her, when you are not being the nurturing type you appear more upright, stoic.

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as independent of a spirit you were; no matter how independent of a spirit someone is there are things so difficult to escape.

when i see you alone with your father i see the exact opposite. you appear so much smaller, and distant. the little bit of light in your eyes you had has suddenly diminished. your body is tense, and struggling to gain some sort of approval or recognition as a sentient being.

i didn't grow up in your house, but what i see from you is just a request for your father to simply say, "i love you son." just as your father, not as 'the man who raised michael jackson (tm)'. i get it. i grew up wanting to be hugged when i was growing up. my mother always said, "get away from me." what ended up happening was that i most likely became so starved for that i overstepped my boundaries on occasion. i didn't even realize what i was doing until a friend brought it to my attention. it really hurt to hear but i had to acknowledge that there were some things i needed to work on. i think how i relate to people these days is a bit healthier. there are definitely some things i still need to work on. this may take a lifetime. my mother does tell me she loves me now, and it is a nice thing to hear.

has there ever been a time where your father told you he loved you, when you were on this plane? do you know if he ever said it when you moved to where you are now?

did you ever have fears that when raising your children you would end up like your own father?

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i can only imagine how often you told your kids you loved them... more times than i can even count, i'm sure.

this is what photographer john wright had to say about you: "my abiding memory is how polite he was - forgetting everything that's gone on, if you were his parents, you'd be proud of how you'd brought him up."

either that old-school southern sort of parenting influenced how you were brought up, or, like me, you were just scared. i spent so much of my life as a quiet kid. even though i did go out and had friends i was always known as the 'quiet kid', where people had to ask me to speak up. in comparison my sister was rambunctious and beat me up almost every day. some of the things i heard your father did to you, my sister did to me. i got the physical (mostly) from my sister, and some of the physical (and mostly mental) from my mother.

so i just stayed quiet, and i was the 'nice sister'.

these things stay with you. i know i'm not always the nicest person (my mood shifts when i am tired, hungry, or some variation of irritable) and i'm not too great at pretending to have 'small talk' or be the nicest person when i am in that space. i do do my best in realizing that everyone has a story though, and what people do want is respect. a lot of people in my experience out here don't demand it though- it's as if they ask permission in order to have it. but that's a whole other story, possibly to do with ANOTHER side of parenting.

nevertheless, how so many of us grow up; it does stay with us.

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i keep thinking about the statement i think grace rwaramba made: that you felt your biggest accomplishment was your children. i have to admit, i marvel at your role as a father; not because it's any surprise . i think you've gotten a lot of practise, being around so many children, and even bubbles. but i see how you hold your children, and it's totally different from how you've held all the other children throughout your journey. i see as well, how you marvel at their existence, allowing them to explore their environment, once in a while telling them not to make so much noise during an interview.

it is this quality you have taken after your mother as well: the maternal. i see nothing wrong with a man carrying those 'maternal instincts'. obviously there are things you cannot provide to your children, in the natural course of things, as a biological male. and i wouldn't even say that you've taken on a role as a mother. it seems to me though, that you've raised them with enough of a balance. it's difficult to explain. we're back to the 'gray area' we spoke about yesterday.

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i just see that this is something you've wanted to do for so much of your life; it's so clear when i see you with them. i do think it was smart of you to wait when you were older; you had them at a point you were releasing art/teachings that were more reflective. 'invincible' is one of my favourite albums of yours, due to this point. fatherhood was so evident, as well as a number of years of triumphs and losses. 'HIStory', for me, was the realization of this period; the inception of where you clearly, artistically pondered the state of your life in ways not yet seen. it was as if life could be taken away from you at any moment (not necessarily in physical form), and you still had something to contribute to the world. it was as if time was running out for you, and you wanted to be able to fulfill a dream you've had for so long.

the biggest accomplishment.

i'm not even explaining it in the way i really want to, so i hope you understand. i see you with them, and you look so much wiser beyond your years, as they say. i see something in you i hadn't seen before. i see serenity (despite all the madness). i see a maturity that seems to only exist in parenthood. most importantly, i see light in your eyes.

i have thought about what it was like for them, having you as a working father... not just ANY working father, but one who consistently had cameras shoved in his face. did they feel like they had to clamor for your attention? did they feel as if you were being taken away from them sometimes?

and even though you're not physically here with them right now, i know they will retain a lot of the qualities you brought them up with. and they, more than anybody, will know you as just a man; a man who was a father to them. in the end, all those cameras and lights do not matter. what DOES matter is the love you gave to them. more than anything, they were loved.

and so were, and are, you.

-jamilah

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