I found out about Whitney Houston's passing from this world under the same circumstances she entered mine: sitting in a car with girlfriends. Things were obviously different; one of my friends was driving--not her mother--and I was able to do a search on my phone to find out about her death, not pray for her song to come on the radio again in the next hour.
At first I accepted it mildly. We all knew she has been on the edge for years. Why was I surprised she had fallen off today? And yet, as I watched her videos and performances, I grew increasingly more despondent, so much so that my 9-year old had to comfort me. And through all the tears, I asked myself why? Why did I find her death so affecting?
Having experienced Michael Jackson's death, I knew that when we mourn a celebrity we are grieving our own mortality, as well as our youth. And what a prominent role she played in my youth! She's always been there--as the girl with the crush, as the glamorous movie star, as the one that promised me that I, as a child, was the future.
But there was more than that about Whitney. She was the everygirl--the one who sang about boys, and love and breakups. She was worried about the same things we were worried about. How will we know if he really loves us, Whitney? She was asking us, because we know about these things! (Hint: He will not hand you a crack pipe.)
Beyond her joyous pop songs and made for dancing around your room with your hairbrush as a mike music, she had a voice that made you believe in a God who handed those voices out once every generation. Though she had peers, there was an effortless, magical, joyous quality to her singing. She commanded the stage, the angels in Heaven and all of us when she sang.
After explaining her marriage and her drug use to my daughter (the most organic just say no parental lecture, ever), my insightful child asked me "If she had so much, why didn't she love herself on the inside?" In other words, why didn't she have the greatest love of all?
While I can't answer her question, I do think she answered mine. We cry about Whitney Houston because we don't understand why someone gifted with so much would also have so many demons. When we saw Whitney perform, she seemed to have everything, but clearly there were dark shadows tormenting her dreams.
Now when we watch Whitney sing, we know the tragedy of her death. We glimpse what should have been, what could have been. And for that we mourn and cry, like we mourn and cry when anything is tragic: it so easily could have been different, should have been different and yet, is exactly the opposite of the way we wanted it to be.