Knowing my eleven-year-old daughter’s interest in singing, I started telling them about Houston’s amazing voice and talent, and how she was one of the biggest stars of the eighties and nineties.
As my wife got into the car, she jumped into the conversation, and we used the opportunity to tell our daughters, and to a lesser extent our son, who was probably oblivious to what we were saying, how Houston got addicted to drugs and how drugs destroyed her once prominent career. (Although we didn’t know it at the time, our oldest daughter was as oblivious as our son. It’s nice when we parents talk to the walls, isn’t it?)
Regardless, it was a sad commentary to make about the legendary singer’s life. It was even sadder when about a week later, we hear, during my sister-in-law's birthday party, that the pop diva had been found dead in a Hollywood hotel room, at the tender age of 48 (Wow! I'm weeks away from my 48th birthday, it is way too young to be taking a last breath!).
Another superstar had fallen, apparently the victim of her fast lane lifestyle, which, among other things, was marked by superstardom at an early age, parties, drugs (including crack cocaine) and alcohol, personal problems and a tumultuous relationship with ex-husband and singer, Bobby Brown.
Sadly, it's a vicious cycle that many celebrities, wannabe celebrities and, even, not-so-celebrities, often get into; the search for happiness through superficiality, relationships, substances and conditions.
One of my favorite quotes is by St. Augustine of Hippo, who in the 4th Century put this quest for happiness into perspective, "Oh God, Thou has made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."
In other words, true happiness can never be found, unless in God (I learned that from personal experience!).
"How sad," I kept hearing.
And, while one co-worker said he did not feel a wee bit sorry for her because, with all her money, she refused to get the help she needed, another added, "She was a victim of her love for the wrong man."
It’s easy to pass judgment and point fingers when we hear about celebrities wasting their lives on fast living.
In fact, we have become used to seeing mega stars fall on their face. We kind of expect them to. And, in some suppressed and warped way, it may even make some of us feel better about ourselves and our own failures (which may be why Tim Tebow is so disliked. He refuses to fail!).
However, it’s different to see a person die because of their failures and to realize that, despite their many struggles and flaws, they are is still deserving of our compassion, as fellow brothers and sisters, who are made and loved by the same celestial Father (or as Whitney would sing, The Greatest Love of All).
Ironically, Saturday morning, before this news broke, a priest stressed this same point to me, albeit in reference to my wife and kids, during confession. He told me to look at them, not as my own, but as children of God, who have been bestowed upon me to care for and love.
In other words, just as God loves me, He loves my wife, my children, and on a wider scope, He loves my co-workers, that man that cut me off on my way to work this morning, the homeless guy that sometimes stands in the corner near my house and Whitney Houston (In fact, He even loves those that reject Him).
We will never know what was in Whitney Houston's heart. I’d like to think that having grown up in a church environment, as a singer in the junior gospel choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, as well as having a mother, Cissy, who was a well known gospel singer, and having attended an all-girls Catholic high school in her teenage years, there had to be, at least, some remnants of faith (if not more).
Even though I refuse to watch awards shows because of all the political and social commentaries that some, in their self-righteousness and narcissism, feel compelled to express, I felt a sense of hope when I heard the way the Grammy Awards' host, LL Cool J, opened the night.
He said, "There is no way around this. We've had a death in our family. And so at least for me (he repeated "for me," as if he was trying to quell any objection by appealing to their sense of tolerance), the only thing that feels right is to begin with a prayer for a woman who we loved, for a fallen sister; Whitney Houston."
As he pulled out a paper from his jacket, many started clapping.
He continued, "Heavenly Father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us. Today, our thoughts are with her mother..."
As the cameras panned around the jam-packed Staples Center in Los Angeles, they captured most of the audience, some in their multi-colored hair, Mohawks and tattoos, including Lady Gaga, holding their hands as if in prayer, bowing their heads and closing their eyes, as they listened to the words being read, while an estimated 40 million viewers tuned in from home.
"…her daughter, and all of her loved ones. And, although, she is gone too soon, we are blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit and to have her lasting legacy of music to cherish and share forever. Amen." And someone was heard yelling form the audience, "Amen!"
What a fitting and poignant way to show respect to God and to Whitney Houston and her family.
(Of course, all that reverence went out the door when Nicki Minaj took the stage later in the show. Isn’t it amazing how you never see Hollywood and music industry celebs trashing other faiths, except Christianity, and in particular the Catholic Church?)
Anyway, getting off my own soap box, what becomes apparent to me from Houston's death, like Michael Jackson’s, Heath Ledger’s, and so many others super stars in recent, and not so recent, years, is that (and going back to my original point) money can't buy happiness (and it can't buy us more time, or love for that matter).
As most of us know, every day we get up and every breath we take is a blessing but, as I heard a priest say during a funeral one time, “Death is not the end. It’s the beginning; the beginning of eternity.”
Therefore, Whitney will live on; not just in her music and in the memories of her fans and loved ones, but in her eternal resting place.
Although they may be too young to understand right now, I hope that Houston's life, talent and tragic ending will serve as a lesson for my daughters (and all young girls wanting to follow in her footsteps) about rising too fast, losing their grounding and searching for happiness in all the wrong places...