One of the most frequently used adjectives to describe Michael Jackson following his death was the descriptor, “lonely.”
The blogger, Sammy Gomez, wrote a piece entitled “Michael Jackson cause of death: loneliness and confusion.” He said:
“While we await the official cause of death for the King of Pop, there’s no doubt that he spent most of his life – all of his adult life – alone and confused … It seemed like everyone he met wanted something from him. Indeed, how do you become friends with one of the most famous people in the world?”
Strange, isn’t it? His face, songs and dance moves were recognized and loved around the world, yet he may have lived and died in isolation. What hit home more for me, however, was a radio interview with a psychologist from one of the universities in the area who argued that the devotion and love for Jackson, which many of his fans felt, came out of their loneliness.
What the professor explained is that when people are lonely they sometimes try to compensate for their lack of real human connection by psychologically attaching themselves to a celebrity. So when fans coming out of the Staples Center after the memorial service last Tuesday said, “it was like losing a member of my family,” they were expressing what they really felt.
Indeed when people are lonely they can anthropomorphize pets or even inanimate objects, according to an article in an online editorial, “Does your pet seem almost human? It may be a clever response to loneliness,” published in the online report, Science Daily. Remember the character Tom Hanks played in the movie Castaway? A volleyball he named Wilson became his friend and confidant.
The question I’m asking myself is, how am I trying to fill that hole in my life called loneliness? Am I so worried about people liking me that I give away who I really am? Am I looking for love in all the wrong places? Am I so afraid of being lonely that I’m unwilling to hang in there and learn what it has to teach me?
Michael Jackson isn’t the only one who was lonely. A lot of us – probably all of us – are. Some of us are isolated because of illness or old age. Some have recently lost a loved one to death, divorce or a move out of town. Some are suffering from a kind of existential aloneness resulting from trying to plug a spiritual hole with people, busy-ness or things that cannot fill the emptiness.
The tragic story of Michael Jackson is, of course, a cautionary tale to which we should all pay attention. Loneliness is an inescapable part of life, a hole all of us are trying to fill.
Gomez wrote this epitaph for the King of Pop. “Had he been truly OK with who he was and how he looked, he would not have tried so hard to look like something he was not. Putting on a show is one thing, but when Michael Jackson put on the makeup and the costumes, he wasn’t just playing a role. He was searching for who he really was – and it’s doubtful he ever found that.”
May we all do better.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.