This morning I scanned Private Eye and found myself riveted by media comments concerning the late Michael Jackson. It seemed that some of those who now laud him in death were less than enthisiastic about him in life.
I remember the same being true concerning Princess Diana. Newspapers and columnists that made her out to be a saint in death, even demanding a similar outlook from others and the help of the Royal family to comfort people who never knew the princess in person, had often been destructively critical of her in the last weeks of her life.
I face the issue of how to speak of the dead when I conduct a funeral. Sometimes there is a difficult balance to be struck whilst there are those who present me with no such problems.
Yet I wonder if our tendency to emphasise the positive in death whilst focusing on the negative in life shows a deeply unpleasant human characteristic of which we are all guilty to some degree.
In the case of Michael Jackson, I have no doubt that he was a fine entertainer. Songs such as "Earth Song" and the video which went with "Thriller" were memorable. That said there have been other entertainers who in my opinion offered as much of not more. His human life is shrouded in mystery and no small amount of controversy. I think he was not guilty of the charges laid against him but foolish in actions which laid him open to suspicion. Yet his life was abnormal from the moment he was catapulted into stardom at an age when many would be wearing short trousers. The loss of childhood seems to have contributed to some of the actions and enthusiasms that led to his being mocked quite cruelly.
So what can we take from this modern day story of a human life? I think there are two things.
1/. We seem to value people more in death than in life. Indeed death has been described as a good career move albeit of a career that one is by death removed from. I think we can learn more how to value people before they breathe their last rather than waiting for the last breath before we discover their value
2/. We need to be real in recongising that most of us do not fit shades of extreme light and darkness in our lives. To think otherwise is to fall for the childish notion that divides people between being paragons of shining virtue or being repulsively evil. The reality is that we have shades of grey in our lives. Sometimes we display the better shades and sometimes the not so good shades. Each of us lives with a struggle within our own lives. So to is it for others. This means recognising the humanity of the person who has fouled up or is the target of public wrath. After all for all their failings they may have good qualities that we tempted to sit in judgement could learn from.