Gema is an 18-year old from Miami, FL. She loves reading and writing young adult fiction and claims to pass out in the presence of sterile wit.
I am not a medium. I am not a mortician. I am not a coroner. However, at eighteen and freshly out of high school, I feel that I know a lot about death. Maybe not as gruesomely as a soldier or as regularly as a doctor, but I know it enough to not need therapy, (unless I’m in denial, but that’s a whole other blog post).
Two people die every two years in my family. This is a pattern that I’ve noticed since the third grade. Since I’ve been alive, I’ve lost a grandfather, an uncle, cousins and other relatives. The last time I received a teary phone call about a cousin’s death, I spent hours digging up an old picture of the deceased just to raise a tired eyebrow at it and say “Et tu, Brutus?” Later at the wake, we all sat quietly around the body and pretended to pray. But in the air lingered the question: “Who’s next?” I called it a curse in tenth grade and a cousin of mine said I was silly. The following year my eleventh grade boyfriend lost his grandfather and then my twelfth grade (and current) boyfriend lost his father. I’ve often compared my dealing with death much to a paper cut: it’s sudden, surprisingly painful, but not unbearable; and the healing is somewhat easy and natural.
Because of this, I believe that I can speak about death either objectively or in such a biased way that my opinion comes off cold and cruel. I hope it’s the former. The deaths, the wakes, the mourning clothes, they’re part of a lifestyle that’s offered me little nuggets of truths. The most important one is: not one life is superior to another. An old man is not more important than a baby dying. A person’s worth on earth is usually measured by his financial stability, but there’s no denying that a random, faceless homeless person and Donald Trump are both mere visitors on this planet. Their paths are different, their failures and successes have not always touched the same people, but they each have blood pumping through their veins and oxygen to inhale. They’ve shared a sky, planet and pollution. And they are each worth mourning.
So I was a little disturbed when Michael Jackson died, or rather, when every other person besides Michael Jackson died and were practically snubbed by the media.
I know I’m not the only one who noticed that June 2009 was a bad month to be a prime celebrity. Deaths included: Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, and Billy Mays. Each of these celebrities had trained and jogged through the marathon that is the human experience, and each staggered and stumbled their way across the finish line. Yet, all of their deaths were overshadowed by Michael Jackson.
This called many things into question. What is a celebrity and why are there many different levels to them? What the media has shown me is that a celebrity is whoever generates attention. The best celebrity is whoever does it the most. Scandal, gossip, rumors- if truths and lies about them sell, they are deemed worthy of celebrity status. But that’s not what the millions of people at Jackson’s impromptu vigils claimed. They each had a story to tell about the King of Pop; a moonwalk attempt here, a jaw-dropping reaction to a thriller video there. They said that a man that they never met changed their lives. That’s a credible reason. My imagination and love for fantasy was enthused by JK Rowling. A compassion for others and the idea that I can make a difference in the world was ignited by John Green, another young adult author. So the notion that a stranger can have an impact on your life is not wrong or even unique. What’s alarming, however, is how these strangers get the massive respects for doing things that millions of others have done: change lives.
Why aren’t there powerful speeches and midnight vigils for all the kindergarten teachers of the world that have left us? Didn’t they teach us how to write our name? To not speak to strangers? To say the alphabet? Didn’t they set the foundation for our entire education? A teacher of two or three decades has had about thousands of students. So when they pass, are those thousands of students present with their families? Do they even know a teacher has died?
Teachers are just an example. There are many people that change lives and sadly, not all are recognized. Even among celebrities, successes and contribution to society are put into competition rather than accepted gratefully. Just because someone is better known does not mean they are more important. This applies in a high school hallways just as much as it does in the media’s racetrack. Every person is worth mourning, every person is worthy of every ritual for the dead still practiced today; celebrity or not.
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