Thursday, April 7, 2011

Michael Jackson, Peter Pan Syndrome and Living Forever


By Robert Levin

I was a huge fan of Michael Jackson. A lot of grown men would be embarrassed to admit that, but not me. Not only was he a brilliant performer and songwriter that defined the 1980's which made up most of my adolescence, there was something else that caused me to feel I had a special understanding of who he was. That something else was his longing for a lost childhood and the battle within himself to both be a man while recouping some of the lost innocence he felt was stolen from him.
While we certainly lived very different lives and I make no pretensions to be a superstar of Michael's stature or possess the same talent he had, one thing we both did share was an enormously emotionally damaging childhood. It is well documented the mixture of loathing, fear and love that Michael felt for his father. Joe Jackson was a stern disciplinarian who would pummel his sons if they did not do what he wanted. Some have credited this with driving Michael and his brothers to the incredible success that they did. But it also left enormous emotional damage.
I grew up with Tourettes Syndrome. It went undiagnosed mostly because I had a moderate case and my parents were in complete denial that I had it. The teasing, ridicule and sometimes physical abuse that I endured caused its own kind of damage in me and caused me to grow up quick and realize how cruel others could be. As an adult, I found myself stunted for many years. In my twenties and even early thirties I longed for the happy, satisfying childhood that I felt I never had. I had no memories of great friendships or happy times in grade or high school. Instead, it pained me to think of much I had endured.
Like Michael, I often enjoyed spending time with my young nephews and niece and even worked as a camp counselor so I could live vicariously through the young people I oversaw. I always seemed to have an ability to sit down next to a child of 7, 10 or 13 and make them feel like I was a friend and that I understood exactly what they were dealing with no matter what it was. I looked at this as a kind of strange gift that was a 'silver lining' from all of the abuse I had undergone when younger. 
Michael obviously had this gift too. It's one of the reasons why I doubted he ever was guilty of the child molestation charges that were leveled against him. I believe he was misunderstood and that spending time with young people was cathartic for him just as it was for me. The difference between us is that I always recognized that while I might have a special ability to empathize with young people and connect with them, I knew I was an adult and would never cross certain lines.  Perhaps because of Michael's isolation he wasn't around enough people that weren't his servants and hanger-ons to fully recognize that difference like I did.
Michael's supposed pre-occupation for living forever, or at least as long as possible has been discussed throughout the years. Of course people have seen the reports that he slept in an oxygen tent, that he wore masks when outside and ate special foods to try and keep as young as possible. Michael took our societies preoccupation with youth to an extreme and became the ultimate boy-man, almost a cartoon caricature of the younger Michael Jackson we all knew and loved. 
I think a lot of us have tried to do the same thing in our own way. Inevitably, we all grow older no matter how good we take care of our skin and bodies. No matter what products we use or how we dress. I look at someone like Madonna, another 80's icon that has chosen a different path. She fights like hell to stay in shape and take care of herself, but she also embraces that she is growing older and is doing so with dignity, despite the fact that like Michael Jackson, her initial fame and talent were tightly woven with her youth and beauty. 
If there's one thing I've learned about the passing of Michael and the lesson that his cut-too-short life holds, it's that life is precious and fleeting. As much as we'd like to we can't re-live our past. It's better to embrace our lives and look to the future. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives, and nobody can compete with father time. Not even Michael Jackson.
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1 comment:

  1. "I'll always be Peter Pan in my heart."
    --- Michael Jackson

    God bless your beautiful soul our beloved Michael.