I can't stop thinking about Whitney Houston.
It's been a little over a week since the news that shook me to the core. On the evening of the 11th I was home by myself, starting to flip through channels looking for a good movie to watch on TV. The first news station I came upon was CNN, with breaking news coming up at the bottom of the screen and the voice of Larry King on the phone with Don Lemon. I literally jumped up from my chair when I read the headline. It couldn't possibly be true what I was reading. Whitney Houston was dead? The last time I remember actually getting up from my seat in shock over the news was the night Princess Diana died. I had that same eerily similar feeling in the pit of my stomach along with the shock of what I was hearing. And once again, I was up most of the night after hearing the tragic news.
I, like many other people I've talked to in the past week, thought that Whitney was well on the road to recovery from her addiction problems and getting healthier every day. She was trying for a comeback. She had just finished filming a movie with Jordin Sparks. She was in Los Angeles to celebrate the Grammys, for crying out loud. That's part of what made this such a shock. As sad as I was when Amy Winehouse passed away, I had almost expected to hear at some point that she was gone so my reaction wasn't quite as vivid. Plus this time...it seemed personal.
Why was this so personal for me? It wasn't like I knew Ms. Houston personally or had ever even met her. I only knew her through her music, movies, and interviews. But something about this beautiful woman struck a chord with me.
As I witnessed Whitney's rise on the music scene, I couldn't help but be drawn in by her infectious smile and tremendous talent. She spoke to me and so many others through her songs. Less than three years separated us in age, and I saw in her what I had always dreamed of for myself. Most of my high school friends will remember me as the one who was country when it wasn't cool, but over time I learned to love all types of music. Whitney Houston was part of the reason for that. How could you not love that voice? It transcended all genres and differences. (Even her biggest hit was a remake of a Dolly Parton song!) I had wanted to be a singer since I was 5 years old, and seeing this woman a couple of years older than me, gorgeous both inside and out, succeed in the music business made me happy. I certainly would not have minded being in her shoes back then, and hearing her voice only made me want to sing more. That's one thing I've always noticed with my favorite vocalists...they always made me happy to sing my heart out!
Over time I identified with her on other issues that didn't have as much to do with music as they did with life. I certainly knew what it felt like to have been the ingenue that pleased others, then after a period of time found that people expect you to remain the same as you were in your twenties. With Whitney it was the different choices in her career and personal life; for me it was constantly being compared to the me of a decade earlier, who was thin, full of energy, and knew the right move to make almost every time. I also learned that there are some people who have a certain image of you in their minds, and the second you prove you are human (the nerve of us - having imperfections or getting older!) they stop supporting you. Some even go so far as to turn on you and criticize, even though they also are not perfect. (Why is it OK for them to learn and grow from their mistakes, but they can't allow others the same courtesy?) Whitney could never have lived up to the "perfect" image created for her, no matter how hard she tried. And it bothered her...she felt somehow she was letting people down by being human. I'm sure that led to some of the other problems she had. Kevin Costner spoke at her funeral about how she always worried if she was good enough. Feeling like you can never make a mistake or else you'll fall off the pedestal people have placed you on...that's a tough spot, one that can make even the strongest person lose his or her mind from time to time.
I even identified with Whitney's addictions, even though mine have nothing to do with alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal substances. My demons are food related, and I know sugar has the same addictive properties as the other substances. You get hooked, you crave it, and you give in even though you know it's not good for you. And you have your ups and downs in beating the addiction. Watching Whitney fight the good fight over and over again, never giving up no matter how much she struggled - that was inspiring to someone who also relies on her faith to work through life's problems.
I have seen some people this past week say that we should remember Whitney for her talent and not the other issues. I agree with this for the most part, except for those who think we should ONLY talk about her voice and NEVER mention her other issues. I have to say - to me that is absurd. While I'm not the kind of person to dwell on the negative, I think a positive lesson can come out of speaking about her addictions. Acting like that stuff never happened is not the answer. I think Whitney would want her struggles to help others going through the same or similar issues. It shows that no matter who you are, you have issues in life that you have to work to overcome. Sweeping it all under the rug only serves to make other people who are suffering ashamed of what they are going through. I certainly want all of the good in her life to be the focus and I don't want to constantly talk about every single weak moment in her life...but it's also important to remember that she was a human being and learn the lessons her life story has to offer. What I don't tolerate are those who ridicule her and make sick jokes about the drug use. Those words are not useful to anyone. If you are going to speak about her addictions, do it with love and compassion.
I cried several times through Whitney's funeral. I am thankful to her mother, Cissy, and the rest of her family for keeping the celebration of her life in church and giving the world a faith lesson. I'm especially grateful that they let it be televised, not only so fans could be a part of Whitney's homegoing, but so we could strengthen our own relationships with God through every moving moment. God always finds a way to make good come out of everything. Hopefully some fans who didn't know much about God before will now long to know more about Him and become faithful believers.
God bless Whitney and her family and friends. May we all realize that no matter what we struggle with in life, it is so much better to walk through it with Him than without. And may we also be grateful for life, whether Whitney's or our own, through all of the ups and downs.