When the news broke today of Don Cornelius’s passing, it seemed strangely appropriate somehow that the CNN article posted in tribute to him spent almost as much space talking about young Michael Jackson as it did Cornelius himself. Quoting heavily from Cornelius’s own Times Magazine tribute to Michael in 2009, today’s CNN write-up served to underscore the entwined relationship between Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5, Soul Train, and, of course, the man who started it all.
Tonight, in memory of Don Cornelius, I’m taking a little trip down memory lane with some of the highlights of Michael’s many Soul Train appearances, and also, Don Cornelius’s full 2009 Times Magazine interview.
Time Magazine Interview, 2009. Don Cornelius Remembers The Young Michael Jackson:
The word got around that these kids from Gary, Ind. — next door to Chicago, where I was working as an announcer — were amazing. A lot of the local recording artists were being told, “If these Jackson 5 kids are on the show that you’re contemplating [doing], don’t book the show because they will kick your ass.” That’s when Michael was 6 or 7. I got to know their father Joe Jackson accidentally — or I sought him out, I can’t remember; it’s been a long time. Most of the guys I worked with at the radio station did some moonlighting as stage-show promoters, and I found a venue and decided to do one. Joe was nice enough to give me the group. That’s how I met them and first got to know Michael. He was about 8.
Michael epitomized the incredible lead singer that most major groups tend to have: the Miracles with Smokey Robinson, the Commodores with Lionel Richie, the Temptations with Eddie and Dennis. Joe Jackson had figured out that that was the formula: he had the spectacular lead singer who could do every step that James Brown ever demonstrated. Michael was just a killer onstage. That’s the first thing you noticed. He knew his way around a stage; he commanded the whole operation. (See Motown’s top five songs.)
He had a star quality, even as an 8-year-old. He was such a lovable individual. If you were backstage, you saw the women who happened to be on the same show, and they just kind of adopted Michael. They were always hugging and kissing and rubbing him — it went on and on, more than almost any other kid could possibly bear. I’m sure Michael got tired of it, but he never complained. They were all over him. As time went on, he sort of fell in love with Diana Ross —her music and her singing — and I think it was mutual. She fell in love with him also. He was still only 9 or 10.
With a guy who’s that young, you don’t try to project how good he’s gonna be ’cause he’s only 4 ft. tall. You’re looking at a small person who can do anything he wants to do onstage — with his feet or his voice. To get to the level of people who can do that, you’re talking about James Brown as a performer. You’re talking about Aretha Franklin as a singer. Or Stevie Wonder or Donny Hathaway — people who were renowned for being able to do whatever they wanted to do with their voices. Michael was like that as a kid. As he began to evolve, you could hear Diana in his singing. You could hear Stevie Wonder. You could hear Marvin Gaye. You could hear Smokey. Once he put it all together, you wouldn’t hear anybody imitating him, because he just had too much going for him as a singer. He was the man. The younger guys coming up used him as the standard. If there’s anyone to use as the standard, to shoot at, to compare yourself with, it’s Michael Jackson.
My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life began, So is it now I am a man, So be it when I shall grow old Or let me die! The Child is father of the Man: And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.-William Wordsworth
Buckle down, guys! We’re heading back to class again for today’s entry.
In the past, I’ve managed to draw several parallels between the life and works of Michael Jackson and the life and works of many prominent literary figures. Today I’m going to examine some interesting parallels between the poetic philosophies of William Wordsworth-one of the major Romantic poets-and Michael Jackson. An odd combination, you think? Well, think again!
First of all, let me just say I am a firm believer that things don’t happen purely by coincidence. Just a couple of weeks ago I did an article rebutting Joanna Schaffhausen’s 2003 hit piece, ‘Is Michael Jackson Stuck In Childhood?”
At about the same time, I was also prepping a lecture on William Wordsworth’s poetry that I would be giving in a few days to my current British Lit II class. This is the first semester in a few years that I’ve been assigned to teach British Lit II; in fact, the last time I had taught this course was back in 2007, long before Michael died and long before I had begun my serious scholarly study into his life and work. In the interim, I hadn’t thought much about the connection between Wordsworth’s and Michael’s views on childhood, but as I reread the works of Wordsworth for this course (as I always do, since it’s imperative that I come to any writer’s work with fresh eyes after five years) I was startled by how closely Wordsworth’s views on the necessity of holding onto childlike inocence echoed exactly what Michael Jackson was trying to tell us almost two hundred years later!
It’s interesting to think that, while the words of William Wordsworth on this subject are still being anthologized even today as works worthy of serious academic scholarship, Michael was scorned and ridiculed by the masses for espousing nothing more than the exact, same views!
Too often, the public and the media has done a grave disservice to Michael Jackson by trying to simplify his views on the connection between artistry and innocence into an either/or. This was the whole point of my previous article. Cynics have been trying to prove for decades that Michael’s apparent desire-not to hang onto childhood per se, but to hang onto childlike innocence-had to be the result of either some form of mental regression (i.e, an illness or defect) or else something more sinister. Few seemed to consider that this was an aesthetic CHOICE-the conscious choice of an adult in full control of his faculties, who had discovered that the true key to creativity was in holding onto not only the innocence, but also the reverence, awe, and wonder of childhood.
The above poem by Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold” is one that continues to inspire debate among critics and students alike. Most puzzling to many is the line, “The Child is Father of the Man.” But really, it’s not that hard of a concept to interpret. The entire poem is written from the viewpoint of a man in middle age who is recalling how he viewed the wonders of nature as a child, and is thankful that he has been able to maintain that sense of innocent wonder into his adult years. He implores passionately, “So was it when my life began” (I had the child’s ability to marvel at the beauty of Nature)/”So is it now I am a man” (Miraculously, despite the jadedness and cynicism that comes with adulthood, he has been able to hang onto his reverence and innocent awe)/”So be it when I shall grow old/Or let me die!’ (If there should come a time he should ever lose this innocence, he would rather die first).
That impassioned line is exactly the same sentiment Michael was expressing when he told Martin Bashir that if there were no more children left, he would jump off a bridge. “I’m done.” To some, that statement may have seemed extreme; even a bit bizarre. But it was really just another way of saying what Wordsworth is saying in his poem. If we lose our innocence, we might as well be dead! For Michael, children were the embodiment of that innocence. Without them, we are nothing-nothing but a world of jaded and cynical adults. From the beginning of time, poets, artists, philosophers and great thinkers have urged us to look at the world “through the eyes of a child.” There is good reason for that. Who really wants to look at the world through the eyes of an adult? Knowing all the filth, smut, and greed that would be looking back at us? It’s the child in us that helps us to mainatin some sense of purity; some sense of hope; some sense of magic.
While a lot of critics have their own spin on the line ‘The Child is Father of the Man” the line itself really isn’t that hard to interpret. Religious interpretations aside (and even those are not invalid to my purpose here) it is simply saying that the child we are/were determines the adult we become. Human life is cyclical-the child begats the man (or woman); the adult is simply that same child in a bigger body. We do not serve our purpose, either to Nature or to God, when we allow ourselves as adults to become a separate entity from our childhood selves. In this regard, Wordsworth had more in common with later Transcendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman than to his contemporary Romantics, and was even a bit of an anamoly among them.
When this line was put up for analysis on enotes.com, it was interesting to see the diversity of responses it received! Yet what’s even more interesting is that one could easily take any one of these interpretaions-or all of them!-and see how easily they apply to Michael Jackson. Just glancing at this first page of the discussion, I was able to highlight some interesting parallels (boldfaced emphasis mine):
Editor Emeritus, Debater, Dickens, The Bard, Churchill
In his famous ode to nature, William Wordsworth says that the child in every person teaches him to appreciate nature beginning with the simple beauty of rainbows and by implication, other natural wonders. What we think as children will help determine how we think as adults. The lines that follow “the child is the father of the man”, suggest, with almost religious zeal, that he hopes to always love nature as he did as a child.
Editor, Debater, Expert, Educator, Dickens, The Bard
In addition to the answer above, this line could also be religious in nature, due to “Child” and “Father” being capitalized. We can think of this line as the child is Jesus, the father is God, and man is everyone on Earth, in one interpretation. Also, we can look at it like this: the only way to salvation is through Jesus, according to Christian beliefs, because Jesus was sent to bear all of our sins through his suffering and death. Jesus, the child of God, was the father of men because he came onto this Earth, preached and shared his beliefs about salvation and about God, and died so that his “children” could be saved, much as a father would do if one of his children was in danger of dying or being killed.
In reply to #1: I am little philosophically oriented person. When I read this poem in this light I felt there is a reference to the ETERNAL BLISS. And one would experience this only by aligining and surrendering to NATURE. This line, as well as the whole poem, might be highlighting the ENTERNITY.
In reply to #1: I am little philosophically oriented person. When I read this poem in this light I felt there is a reference to the ETERNAL BLISS. And one would experience this only by aligining and surrendering to NATURE. This line, as well as the whole poem, might be highlighting the ETERNITY.
I grew up with lots of childhood issues, which I buried until I was in my late 40’s. These issues dominated much of my adult behavior, especially with my children. With this background I see Wordsworth’s quote as meaning that things we experienced as children, which are still buried within us, play the role of a controlling father to us as adult men. Classic example: “I hate the way my father treated me and I don’t want to treat my children that way, but I can’t seem to help it.”
Editor Emeritus, Debater, Expert, Educator, Scribe, Dickens, The Bard
Is so interesting to see how many interpretations we all have about his phrase, which is what makes his poetry so magical and intense as an experience. I feel that, as some have posted, Wordsworth is saying that our heart speaks for our brains, in not such exacting words. If we are children at heart, our inner child will dictate all the great and the wonderful things that we find in life. If we aren’t born with an inner child, our life will lack that, and we might even lose control of it.
Whren in a College English Lit class we explored the meaning behind Wordsworth’s words “The Child Is The Father Of The Man.” We determinedf that he meant that the Child is born all knowing and it is through experiencing life that we lose that knowlege! That our life experiences make us lose those knowings those memories we are born with because The Child Is The Father Of The Man!
Poster #6 also reminded me very much of what Michael said in his speech at Oxford, when he spoke of how his own childhood experiences had shaped the adult he had become and how he was striving to be a much better father to his own children (or at least, a more loving and affectionate father) than his own father had been to him.
In all of these responses, I could hear the very words Michael had echoed so many times coming back, but no one was listening because…well, this guy is freaky and strange, right? So what does he know?
Wordsworth’s poem was actually part of a larger collection entitled “Ode: Intimations Of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood.” Wordswoth stated in a letter from 1814: ‘The poem (“Intimations”) rests entirely on two recollections of childhood, one that of a spendour in the objects of sense which is passed away, and the other an indisposition to bend to the law of death as applying to our particular case. A Reader who has not a vivid recollection of these feelings having existed in his mind cannot understand that Poem.” (Damrosch and Dettmar, Masters of British Literature, Vol. B, 272).
Much of Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood” is steeped in a single, simplistic view: When we lose touch with childhood, we have not only disconnected from our innocence, but also our own immortality (for we are never as far removed from the notion of death as we are in childhood).
In the letter quoted above, Wordsworth drew on another one of his own verses to further illustrate the concept of “Ode”,” a poem entitled “We Are Seven”:
————–A simple Child, That lightly draws its breath, And feels its life in every limb, What should it know of death?-William Wordsworth
Most of us can still recall what a traumatic experience it was a s a child to first learn the concept of death. However that realization may have come about-perhaps the death of a beloved pet, or a close relative, or even, God forbid, a fellow playmate our own age-it’s often for many the first, jarring initiation into the world of adulthood. A world where we realize that nothing is permanent; nothing guaranteed-except death. A world where we begin to lose touch with bliss.
Using his own, earlier poem “The Child is Father of the Man” almost as a kind of echo from a tale long past, the narrator in “Ode” writes almost wearily:
Let’s return to that last line: “The things which I have seen I can now see no more.” This is what lies in store for us once we have lost touch with our inner child; this is what the loss of bliss entails!
You can also read a very excellent analysis of Wordsworth’s poem here in Robin Bates’s “Coping With The Loss of Childhood”:
Which brings us back to Michael. Was he, in a sense, not only trying to hang onto bliss, but also to immortality? This is going-out-on-a-limb stuff, but perhaps not as far fetched as it sounds. When we look at all of the humanitarian work he did for terminally ill children (Ryan White comes to mind as I was reading Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven”) we realize this is someone who’s heart was literally bleeding for all of the world’s children who were losing their innocence to the greatest thief of all.
Generally speaking, “Man In The Mirror” (the VH-1 TV movie, not the song) was an abomination-a movie so horribly bad that even Michael himself broke his usual reticence to publicly condemn it. However, there is one scene that always haunted me, in which the fictional Michael reacts to the death of a terminally ill child who has visited Neverland (I suspect the boy in the film may have been a fictionalized representation of Ryan White). Just look over the bad acting and horrifically corny dialog; the power is in the visual of the scene, which perfectly captures the horrific juxtaposition of childhood joy and innocence with death and is probably the only scene in the whole movie that actually worked (and to save you the nausea of watching the whole clip, I’ll just tell you that the scene in question begins at 2:34):
Now let’s have a look at the real Michael, saving the life of a dying child in Budapest (I know this will be familiar to most fans, but I’m posting this for the benefit of anyone who isn’t familiar with the story of Bela Farkas):
But the stories of Michael’s legendary generosity and humanitarian efforts to help dying children don’t stop there. There are far too many stories to even begin to post them all here. Although equating Michael with Peter Pan was, I think, largely a media exaggeration, there’s no denying that he was attracted to the idea of Neverland-a magical place where innocence is never lost, where no on grows old, but more importantly, perhaps, where no one ever has to die.
Michael wasn’t naive enough to believe he could actually create such a reality. But I think that he was definitely attuned to Wordsworth’s belief that we have to remain as a child in order to be “Father of the Man” and to maintain our Eternal Bliss.
In Part Two of this series, I will take a closer look at the parallels between Wordsworth and Michael as fathers themselves, and will also examine another Wordsworth poem aptly entitled…”Michael!”
Of all Michael’s “message” songs, “Man In The Mirror” remains the most commercially succesful and in many ways, most enduring. There is good reason for that. Unlike the overly saccaharine “Heal The World” or more darkly angry political songs such as “Earth Song” and “They Don’t Care About Us,” “Man In The Mirror” derives its popularity due to a very simplistic yet universal message: That change has to start within. We can’t change the world until we have changed the reflection that is looking back at us.
Michael didn’t write “Man In The Mirror,” but along with “Human Nature” and “Thriller” it’s become one of those iconic songs so indelibly identified as “his” that it’s almost hard to believe that he had no hand in its creation.
But hold on…not so fast. According to those who attended last year’s Columbia Chicago Symposium, “Man In The Mirror” songwriter Siedah Garrett revealed that Michael actually had quite a significant hand in shaping the song’s final outcome. According to Garrett, Michael initially refused the song because he felt the bridge was too weak. He then collaborated with Garrett to build the song’s bridge, making suggestions and giving creative ideas, until finally “Man In The Mirror” took shape into the powerhouse gospel arrangement that eventually made it onto the “Bad” album and the top of the charts.
But how did Michael himself really feel about the man who stared back at him from his own mirror? The answer may be best revealed by something Michael did undisputably write-a piece that made it into his book Dancing the Dream, Michael’s 1992 collection of poems and reflections.
In a piece entitled “That One In The Mirror” Michael reveals something interesting-and very honest-about his own feelings of disconnect from his public image/persona as opposed to the person he really felt himself to be. Looking at this piece, it’s easy to see how and why Michael identified so powerfully with the speaker in “Man In The Mirror.”
But first, let’s look at the familiar lyrics from the song. I’ve boldfaced those lyrics that will be especially pertinent to this discussion:
I’m Gonna Make A Change, For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good, Gonna Make A Difference Gonna Make It Right. . .As I, Turn Up The Collar On My
Favourite Winter Coat
This Wind Is Blowin’ My Mind
I See The Kids In The Street,
With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To See
A Summer’s Disregard,
A Broken Bottle Top
And A One Man’s Soul
They Follow Each Other On
The Wind Ya’ Know
‘Cause They Got Nowhere
That’s Why I Want You To
KnowI’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place (If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place) Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change)
(Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na,
Na Nah)I’ve Been A Victim Of A Selfish Kind Of Love
It’s Time That I Realize
That There Are Some With No
Home, Not A Nickel To Loan Could It Be Really Me, Pretending That They’re Not Alone?A Willow Deeply Scarred,
Somebody’s Broken Heart
And A Washed-Out Dream
They Follow The Pattern Of
The Wind, Ya’ See
Cause They Got No Place
That’s Why I’m Starting With
(Starting With Me!)I’m Starting With The Man In
I’m Asking Him To Change
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The
World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make A Change)-Man In The Mirror, Lyrics By Siedah Garrett, Performed By Michael Jackson
Now let’s look at what Michael wrote about himself and the man in his own mirror. The boldfaced passages are my own emphasis:
“I wanted to change the world, so I got up one morning and looked in the mirror. That one looking back said, ‘There is not much time left. The earth is wracked with pain. Children are starving. Nations remain divided by mistrust and hatred. Everywhere the air and water have been fouled almost beyond help. Do something!’
That one in the mirror felt very angry and desperate. Everything looked like a mess, a tragedy, a disaster. I decided he must be right. Didn’t I feel terrible about these things too, just like him? The planet was being used up and thrown away. Imagining earthly life just one generation from now made me feel panicky.
It was not hard to find the good people who wanted to solve the earth’s problems. As I listened to their solutions, I thought, ‘There is so much good will here, so much concern.’ At night before going to bed, that one in the mirror looked back at me seriously. ‘Now we’ll get somewhere,’ he declared. ‘If everybody does their part.’
But everybody didn’t do their part. Some did, but were they stopping the tide? Were pain, starvation, hatred, and pollution about to be solved? Wishing wouldn’t make it so-I knew that. When I woke up the next morning, that one in the mirror looked confused. ‘Maybe it’s hopeless,’ he whispered. Then a sly look came into his eyes, and he shrugged. ‘But you and I will survive. At least we are doing all right.’
I felt strange when he said that. There was something very wrong here. A faint suspicion came to me, one that had never dawned so clearly before. What if that one in the mirror isn’t me? He feels separate. He ‘sees’ problems out there to be solved. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. He’ll get along. But I don’t feel that way-those problems aren’t ‘out there,’ not really. I feel them inside me. A child crying in Ethiopia, a sea gull struggling pathetically in an oil spill, a mountain gorilla being mercilessly hunted, a teenage soldier trembling with terror when he hears the planes fly over: Aren’t these things happening in me when I see and hear about them?
The next time I looked in the mirror, that one looking back had started to fade. It was only an image after all. It showed me a solitary person enclosed in a neat package of skin and bones. ‘Did I once think you were me?’ I began to wonder. I am not so separate and afraid. The pain of life touches me, but the joy of life is so much stronger. And it alone will heal. Life is the healer of life, and the most I can do for the earth is to be its loving child.
That one in the mirror winced and squirmed. He hadn’t thought so much about love. Seeing ‘problems’ was much easier, because love means complete self-honesty. Ouch!
‘Oh, friend,’ I whispered to him, ‘do you think anything can solve problems without love?’ That one in the mirror wasn’t sure. Being alone for so long, not trusting others and being trusted by others, it tended to detach itself from the reality of life. ‘Is love more real than pain?’ he asked.
‘I can’t promise that it is. But it might be. Let’s discover,’ I said. I touched the mirror with a grin. ‘Let’s not be alone again. Will you be my partner? I hear a dance starting up. Come.’ That one in the mirror smiled shyly. He was realizing that we could be best friends. We could be more peaceful, more loving, more honest with each other every day.
Would that change the world? I think it will, because Mother Earth wants us to be happy and to love her as we tend her needs. She needs fearless people on her side, whose courage comes from being part of her, like a baby who is brave enough to walk because Mother is holding out her arms to catch him. When that one in the mirror is full of love for me and for him, there is no room for fear. When we were afraid and panicky, we stopped loving this life of ours and this earth. We disconnected. Yet how can anybody rush to help the earth if they feel disconnected? Perhaps the earth is telling us what she wants, and by not listening, we fall back on our own fear and panic.
One thing I know: I never feel alone when I am earth’s child. I do not have to cling to my personal survival as long as I realize, day by day, that all of life is in me. The children and their pain; the children and their joy. The ocean swelling under the sun; the ocean weeping with black oil. The animals hunted in fear; the animals bursting with the sheer joy of being alive.
This sense of ‘the world in me’ is how I always want to feel. That one in the mirror has his doubts sometimes. So I am tender with him. Every morning I touch the mirror and whisper, ‘Oh, friend, I hear a dance. Will you be my partner? Come.'”-Michael Jackson, “That One In The Mirror.”
Something I find very interesting about this piece is how he speaks of the disconnect and separateness between himself and his mirror image. The mirror image is the outside self, the flesh and blood shell that the world sees. I think that here, he is referencing the image he sees in the mirror as his public, outward self. The “man in the mirror” is aware of the earth’s problems, and makes a great show of standing up for these causes and uniting people all over the world to fight them. But when push comes to shove, he is only giving lip service to the idea of change. Inwardly, he feels afraid and powerless.
Did Michael feel afraid and powerless, even as he strove to tell us to “make that change” and to unite and “heal the world?” Did he have his moments of doubt and selfish weakness?
In this piece, he is very candidly giving us those answers. His outer self tells him, “It doesn’t really matter what happens to the world. You and I-(here the image is pointing outward, as if to say, “You and I, Michael”)-will be all right.” What did Michael Jackson, world famous celebrity and mega rich entertainer, have to be worried about? His position in life was secure. In fact, this was someone who had wanted for very little in the way of material riches since childhood. His “outer image” tells him that no matter what happens to the world or to the people and animals in it, his own life isn’t going to be affected. How many times have we seen stories of war and destruction in the news, or the commercials of starving children in Africa, only to turn away in numb indifference? Because the petty concerns of our own lives are so much more urgent, and pressing? In this piece, as Michael honestly looks upon his own reflection, his “friend” in the mirror, he makes a disturbing discovery-he realizes he doesn’t really know this person at all! The outer man he sees has become smug, complacent; numb and unfeeling-a hypocrite, even.
But the inner man knows better. He becomes somewhat repulsed by the selfish image in the mirror. Is this the person he has allowed himself to become-selfish, indifferent; someone who gives lip service to the suffering of the world only because it’s the “fashionable” thing to do? Or who gives up too easily just because the fight seems so hopeless?
He comes to dislike the man in the mirror. But the realization only serves to intensify his sense of helplessness.
As long as there is disconnect within the self, there can be no true happiness and no true inner peace. Here Michael seems to be taking a very deep and honest look at his self-reflection and coming to the realization that this is not someone who can heal the world-not yet. Because he can’t even heal himself. And that is both a scary and disconcerting realization. “A faint suspicion came to me, one that had never dawned so clearly before. What if that one in the mirror isn’t me? He feels separate. He ‘sees’ problems out there to be solved. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. He’ll get along. But I don’t feel that way-those problems aren’t ‘out there,’ not really. I feel them inside me.”
In this very candid self-realization, he admits that it’s much easier to “see problems” than to actually give love, especially if one has no love to give! And what would keep one from being able to give love selflessly? “He hadn’t thought so much about love…because love means complete self-honesty. Ouch!”
The interjection of the word “ouch” here is very telling. He’s admitting that it hurts to really look at one’s self; the self-honesty of reflection is a painful process, forcing us to face not only the truths we keep hidden from the world, but even from our own selves. If most of us really took the time to look at our own reflections, we probably wouldn’t like what we see! But forcing ourselves to look is the first painful, crucial step to embracing ourselves fully. We can’t begin to love others until we can love ourselves.
The next paragraph is perhaps one of the most revealing and honest glimpses into his soul that Michael has ever allowed us. This is coming straight from the heart of that little boy who had to learn a very hard lesson far too early in life: You can’t trust anyone. “Being alone for so long, not trusting others and being trusted by others, it tended to detach itself from the reality of life. ‘Is love more real than pain?’ he asked.”
That the image who speaks to Michael from the mirror even has to ask this question is very telling. He speaks of his mirror image as being something “detached” from “the reality of life.” Yet, coming from within himself, he knows this is not the real man. He realizes there is a disconnect between what he is capable of feeling-the love he is capable of giving-and that empty, lonely man in the mirror. But how to bridge them? He seems to arrive at his own answer.
“The pain of life touches me, but the joy of life is so much stronger. And it alone will heal. Life is the healer of life, and the most I can do for the earth is to be its loving child.”
Part of becoming “that loving child” is reaching out to that pained, lonely, and fearful man in the mirror, making him realize the true power that comes from the abilility to love. This is Michael looking at himself-the scarred and abused child; the megastar who had learned craftily how to hide his true emotions; even the philanthropist who was telling us “We Are The World.” This is all of that completely stripped away, and what is left? Nothing but a naked man and frightened child, too scared to love; too indifferent to care. “When that one in the mirror is full of love for me and for him, there is no room for fear. When we were afraid and panicky, we stopped loving this life of ours and this earth. We disconnected. Yet how can anybody rush to help the earth if they feel disconnected?Perhaps the earth is telling us what she wants, and by not listening, we fall back on our own fear and panic.”
But the next paragraph is very telling. He says that the “man in the mirror” is just an image-and one that is ‘starting to fade.” Perhaps this is a double play on the word “image,” meaning in the one sense, his literal mirror reflection, and in the other sense, “image” as when we speak of a celebrity’s public persona and how we perceive them. He says it was “only an image, after all,” a solitary person ‘enclosed in a neat package of skin and bones.” The self-serving image, along with all of its fears, doubts, and shallow insecurities, fades as he learns to fully embrace and love himself. “That one in the mirror smiled shyly. He was realizing that we could be best friends.We could be more peaceful, more loving, more honest with each other every day.”
The word “honest” is key here. Michael is attempting, finally, to bridge his inner and outer self in order to achieve true peace and happiness. He is finally learning how to love himself so that he can be a good steward in the way that God and Mother Earth intends. Or at the very least, he is arriving at the self realization of this need, which is the crucial first step to healing and becoming whole. In doing so, he can even give himself permission to stumble; to be weak; to embrace his imperfections as part of the human dance.I do not have to cling to my personal survival as long as I realize, day by day, that all of life is in me…
Life is a force much bigger than ourselves; we are but a part of the dance. This was a theme that Michael’s work returns to over and over again. But as children of God and of Mother Earth, we cannot partake fully in life if we remain divided from our own self-or if we insist on loathing the man or woman in the mirror. After all, that image is only ourself as we are, encased in “a neat package of skin and bones.”
The last paragraph seems to reflect a newfound inner peace and self-acceptance,and perhaps we can take this as indicative of the place Michael finally arrived at, at least for a little while.
“This sense of ‘the world in me’ is how I always want to feel. That one in the mirror has his doubts sometimes. So I am tender with him…”
In this piece, Michael seems to be telling us that he has come to an important crossroads; an important realization. This “man in the mirror” isn’t perfect. This “man in the mirror” is no Pollyanna. He knows the world is a dark, scary and sometimes lonely place. He knows it’s a dirty, screwed up world and humanity in general sucks. He knows it because he sees it in himself.
But he also sees something else. He sees love and the eternal hope that keeps us all hanging on, in hopes of a brighter day tomorrow. He sees the light within himself. He sees the possibilities.
He’s not afraid to ask for change; to demand it even. Not from the world, and not from us, but from where it matters most. From deep within the heart of that man staring back in the mirror.