Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stolen Thunder: When the Death of One Person Overshadows the Death of Another

In 2009, radio and television announcers declared the death of Farrah Fawcett. Suddenly our minds reeled with memories of her famous poster (pictured above), her stint as one of Charlie’s Angels, her surprising (for those who believed she was merely beautiful but had no talent) acting abilities in The Burning Bed and other movies, and her bout with rectal cancer. 

But before we had time to digest the news of this beautiful woman who departed this Earth much too soon, another announcement buried the news of Farrah Fawcett – the death of Michael Jackson. The world fell into a state of shock that someone so vibrant, so talented, so loved – would be gone so suddenly.

Farrah Fawcett, who might have received more coverage if Michael Jackson hadn’t died the same day, became a mere mention in the news. Though she was famous, Farrah became almost insignificant while the world mourned the loss of the more popular Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson’s death became center stage and received about as much coverage as did Princess Diana’s death, while Farrah Fawcett’s death became a mere shadow.

Fame of another kind comes to mind when I think about the day that Jesus and the two thieves were crucified. Those two thieves were so insignificant, their names didn’t even deserve mention in the Bible. Did anybody mourn their loss? Did they have family and friends who loved them? They were thieves, after all, not murderers.

And what about those of us who lost our own loved ones on the same day that somebody famous died? We attended quiet ceremonies where maybe a handful of individuals felt our deep loss. Our grief was deep, but nobody understood the importance of our own loved ones, because they didn’t receive the same recognition as did somebody more famous.

Does media coverage following the death of a celebrity indicate that the deceased person was more loved than the people we loved? When Princess Diana died, people around the world mourned her loss. We felt engaged. We felt close to her. But what about loved ones who died on the same day as did Diana? Wasn’t our loved one just as important?

We seem to be at the mercy of the media when it comes to our beliefs about famous individuals. Without our awareness, we become puppets watching other puppets perform on a stage. Whoever has the best publicist is the one who receives the most coverage. 

But we are blind to the famous individuals’ humanity. We see them as the roles they play and the performances they give. We dismiss the pain we see in their eyes (Robin Williams, for one), because we believe that because of their fame, they don’t experience any of the normal human frailties we understand. We think we love the people we don’t know because we assume that we know them based on what we see and hear about them.

We idolize the famous and forget that they are not the roles they play or the performances they give. They’re not even the people we believe them to be.

Many years ago I worked at a teaching hospital. As you would imagine, I encountered a LOT of doctors. But unlike my boss who thought of them as gods, I treated them like human beings. I even dated some of them. My boss was appalled and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t treat them with the same respect he gave them. 

What he didn’t understand was that I knew they were human beings. I’ve always believed, even though I was taught to respect my elders, including teachers and police officers, that after I gave these “elders” the benefit of the doubt, they would have to earn my respect if they didn’t act appropriately.

I didn’t always feel that way. When I was a teenager, if any one of The Beatles had appeared in front of me, I’d have fawned all over them like – well, a teenager. But today I look at everyone through the same eyes. We all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses. Some of us are wealthy, most of us are not. Some of us drive fancy cars, others could care less about the type of vehicle that gets them from Point A to Point B.

But I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that no one person is any more or any less important than any other individual. And no one person deserves to be loved any more or any less than any other person. Farrah Fawcett mattered to a lot of people. The fact that she didn’t get as much coverage as did Michael Jackson doesn’t mean that she was any less loved. Because – what really is our definition of love? Can you say that you loved Michael Jackson in the same way you love your child? Did you love Princess Diana in the same way you loved your mother, your father, or your spouse?

Some celebrity somewhere may have stolen the thunder from your loved one, but your loved one mattered to you. Without the fanfare, without the stage, without the publicist, those famous individuals are now souls just like your loved ones are. They all have no money, no home, no bills, no fancy cars. They are all living in spirit form in a place we’ll all visit some day.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” The Beatles

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