“For what is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” – James 4:14
A funny thing happens to us all, along this journey called life — if we live long enough. We awaken one day to discover that we are no longer children; no longer innocent babes protected in the care of our parents. We come to realize that the weight of this world now rests upon our own shoulders; so we get jobs, we marry, we divorce, and we parent our own children. The life cycle is in continual motion, and we are all moving so fast.
But every once in a while, we get a jolt of reality, a nudge from fate that says, “pay attention: expiration date inevitable.” We lose someone iconic, like Whitney Houston, and suddenly we are grudgingly reminded of the Latin maxim, Tempus Fugit: time flies, and it waits for no man.
Those of us who grew up as the so-called “X” generation (born 1964-1977) will forever remember Whitney as the tall, beautiful, songstress, with great hair, an infectious laugh, and a vibrant spirit, who burst on the scene in the mid 1980s, when we were in junior high or high school. So for us, to see her laid to rest at 48 years of age, with the cause of her death unknown, but a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol suspected, is surreal. It is mind-numbing, and it is heartbreaking.
I was boarding a plane from Florida back to Washington yesterday, just as Whitney’s funeral had begun, and I landed just as it was ending. What struck me, through the fog of my own tears and emotion over the passing of this beautiful, cocoa brown sister, was how much of an impact she had on people from all walks of life: black, white, yellow, red, male, female, liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish.
I saw and felt it all around me yesterday.
When I left Orlando, all of us were gathered around one TV set watching Kevin Costner speak, and there was not a dry eye around me. On the plane, we had in-flight TV service and everyone had it on their screens. We were talking, crying, sharing lessons to be learned, and shaking our heads in disbelief. When we landed at Dulles airport and walked off the plane, Whitney’s voice could be heard everywhere singing, “I Will Always Love You”, and then the casket was carried out the door of her home church by the pallbearers, and you could hear a pin drop in one of the world’s busiest airports. People stood silent, heads bowed, tears falling, deeply hurt because we all understood that one day, “there go I.” We all understood that one day, we will bury our loved ones, and we ourselves will be buried. It was one of the most sobering moments of my life, and that of those around me.
In that moment, we all understood that life ends, no matter how we try to outrun and cheat death. Eventually death will win. But as Bishop TD Jakes reminded us on Saturday in his remarks at Whitney’s funeral: “it only looks like death has won. Love is stronger than death.”
On Saturday, we learned some things about Whitney that are worth noting. Several of those who spoke, commented that Whitney was finally starting to live life on her terms as she approached 50 years of age. Kevin Costner (who co-starred with Whitney in The Bodyguard) eulogized her and shared: “Whitney had doubts. She wondered if she was good enough, pretty enough, if she was enough.”
Imagine, that a 5’10” tall, statuesque, beautiful woman, with the voice of a goddess, had doubts about her worth. She did. What Costner shared with us was important because it reminds us all that, no matter our stature or accolades, we are human, we share similar insecurities, we are interconnected, and that we all have great gifts and great weaknesses alike. Whitney Houston, the mega movie star, generational icon, and Grammy winning music legend for over 25 years, was no exception to this rule.Some have been critical and cruel toward Whitney in this past week, for some of the mistakes she made in her brief life. Some have said that she should not have been honored with flags flying at half mast in her home state of New Jersey, or that she did not deserve having her funeral played live throughout the world. I respectfully disagree. Whitney Elizabeth Houston mattered to tens of millions of people worldwide. She helped them along their journey with her songs.
To those of us in Gen X, she was a game changer on so many levels. She was our black butterfly, our pop music queen, our diva, and she did what few singers ever have: her music crossed over — across race, culture, gender and religious barriers with the soulful, stirring sounds of her voice.
Sitting with some girlfriends (my age) Friday night talking over drinks, we all lamented that many of our beloved icons from our youth had passed away in recent years. Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Teena Marie, Phyllis Hyman, Heavy D, Soul Train founder Don Cornelius and now sweet, pretty Whitney. It wasn’t that we loved the others any less, but somehow Whitney’s loss hit us all so much deeper. She was our girl, she was one of us, as she struggled through life at times as we all do, but she kept getting back in the arena. Most importantly, she gave us the gift of her music, in her lyrics, in her movies; she touched us where we all live. And as Bishop Jakes said, where we live is “love”. Love always prevails.
In the final analysis, every generation that has ever lived, has its influencers and stars. Some become presidents, some are astronauts, and others are poets, sports icons, statesmen, business leaders, inventors, or educators. But a talented, gifted few are chosen to do great things. And with that awesome giftedness come incredible burdens. These people are called to lift us, minister to us, and connect us. Whitney Houston did that for us all in January 1991 at the Super Bowl with her stirring rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner”. She did it for us every time she belted out a song, laced with that incredible smile, and her wonderful spirit.
So as we remember the life of Whitney Elizabeth Houston, let us reflect on our own. Whitney’s journey is now over. She is home with the Lord. But yours and my journey is still ongoing. So the only questions are these: will we live our lives, will we follow our dreams? And will we seize our one moment in time as Whitney did? The choice is ours. Let us choose life.
Rest in peace sweet sister until we all meet again.
Sophia A. Nelson is a columnist, political commentator and author of the award winning book, “Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama.” Follow Sophia on Twitter at @sophiaredefined