I woke up this morning in Nigeria to the news of the untimely passing of Whitney Houston. The night had been troubled and feverish leading to a slow morning made more surreal by unbelievable news delivered by text and Blackberry Messenger.
Of course it wasn’t true. I wasn’t even going to hunt down the news. No. There were more electronic messages and then the harbinger of social media. Finally, I could not ignore my friend’s voicemail about how upset she was. It became inescapably true. Whitney Houston was dead.
When Michael died we were blindsided. I was in denial for hours awaiting confirmation. With this news of Whitney, it was irrevocable. The passing had been confirmed for hours. I had nothing to face but the truth that this woman who was everything when I was growing was gone. Suddenly, unceremoniously. Gone.
What bubbled up in me was not sorrow, though. It was a quiet, humming rage that got louder as I read the missives on social media. That rage grew to deafening thudding of my heart in my ears.
Why all this now? Where were we when she was alive? What difference does our outpouring make now that she is gone to us? How dare you comment about her “wasted” talent? How could you look at her legacy of astounding achievement and twist your finger to type “waste”? Was she not potential realized? Did she not burn bright only to come down and be among us, human?
The rage has long simmered down, making way for speechless sorrow. I wish we had honored her in life the way death compels us. I wish we had acknowledged her impact on our lives. She was everything to the little growing Black girl that I was. I sang along horribly as she serenaded me from childhood to adolescence and finally drifted away into adulthood.
She was my hero and like everyone else, I used her voice to fuel my dreams. When that voice stopped booming, I cast her aside and moved on. I shrugged off her struggles expecting her to overcome. When it took longer than expected, I shelved my concern, biding my time, looking away, refusing to acknowledge what was attempting to replace my icon.
Then one day she came back to us, scarred, voice lost to her battle for life. I was happy though I mourned such a beautiful thing now burned away. That is when I, like everyone else who already had, took her down from her pedestal believing that I had gotten all that I could have from her.
Whitney Houston was no wasted talent. In her short life, she accomplished more than many of us could dream to achieve many lifetimes over with just her voice. In our greed, we wanted more and more from this phenom who gave us infinitely more than we could imagine. She did not stop until she was spent and used up by our insatiable need for constant affirmation. When she proved to be human like the rest of us, we went searching for another brightness to bask in until that light dimmed as well.
Little did I know that Whitney would one day trump all the naysayers. She did so by dying. Her passing has caused us to finally recognize her impact and honor her like we refused to in her last days.
In passing, Whitney Houston taught the ultimate message. Nothing is forever. Our heroes are not forever. Let us honor our heroes often and always, letting them know they have don’t have to keep producing to retain our love. Let us let them be human.
She gave us word and song. They are left behind, a shadow of the incomparable voice and woman that sang until she could sing no more for us. Thank you for this:
I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of.
And I wish to you, joy and happiness.
But above all this, I wish you love.
And I will always love you.
May we learn our lesson and honor loved ones, heroes and icons before death and after the music stops. May we embrace our and others’ humanity. May your soul rest in perfect peace, Whitney Elizabeth Houston. You are loved.