Friday, October 19, 2012

A defining moment

When a good friend of mine posted the copy of People magazine from October 1987, which contains Michael's letter, the memories of that time - where I first saw the letter, how I reacted - came flowing back to me in an unstoppable stream and I realized with some surprise that 25 years down the line I still know every word by heart...

"Like the old Indian proverb says, do not judge a man until you've walked 2 moons in his moccasins.
Most people don't know me, that is why they write such things in which most is not true.
I cry very often because it hurts and I worry about the children, all my children all over the world. I live for them.
If a man could say nothing against a character but what he can prove, history could not be written.
Animals strike, not from malice, but because they want to live. It is the same with those who criticize. They desire our blood, not our pain. But still I must achieve. I must seek truth in all things. I must endure for the power I was sent forth. For the world. For the children.
But have mercy, for I've been bleeding a long time now.


Wait, I am getting ahead of myself…
Let’s start at the beginning, which was way back in 1987, when the only music magazine worth reading in Denmark was the German “Bravo.” No other magazine had so many huge posters and so many colorful pages dedicated to the leading artists of that era. In short, it was the thing if you were a teenage girl like me in the 1980s.  

Every week – or was it every second – I do not remember anymore, I would make my way down to my “waterhole” – the small shop in downtown “Hicksville”, which was the only place to get the magazine.

It was no different that rainy day in late 1987, where I picked up the latest issue, and then raced home on my bike on wet streets, eager to devour what was inside the magazine. I knew there was going to be an article on Michael – as always in those years it seemed – and since he was the main object of my interest, my excitement was probably so big that I did not even care about the fact that I got soaked. All that mattered was taking my “booty” home as fast as possible. And you all know that rain gear is for old people - at least when you are young.
Anyway, then came the moment when I got to the page, containing the letter. It was only a single page and I remember that the copy of the letter was not very big, because they had put in some more stuff on the page as well, including a German translation - and a picture of Michael.
I also remember the almost reverent feeling had inside, when I bent forward and began reading Michael’s handwriting. It was a big moment for me. It was my first encounter with something from his hand that was neither music nor dance, but something endlessly more personal.

I made it through the first two lines, but then my patience I fell victim to the combined effect of the small print and Michael’s handwriting and I resorted to the German translation, so eager to find out what the rest of his message was that I suddenly did not care what language I got it in. So much for reverence… At least for a while…

Because once I had an idea what the letter was all about, I understood that it was of such importance that I just had to turn back to Michael’s own handwriting again. I had to read it in his own words, in his own language and in his own handwriting and assisted by the German translation and a great deal of stubbornness, I finally got his “hieroglyphs” deciphered.

Was I shocked? No. Surprised? No. Bewildered? No.
I felt enlightened. His letter – as sad and desperate as it was – was a revelation to me. It was the illusive piece of the puzzle that I had been searching for ever since the day that I had realized that there was a constant hint of sadness in Michael’s eyes, which did not seem to fit into my picture of someone, who was hugely popular and successful.

Well, actually it was more than that… It was my first glimpse of a man, who was driven by pure, unselfish love and a deep desire to make a difference, but who was also haunted and hurt by misunderstanding. 

I did not know it then, but these few lines really represent Michael’s life in a nutshell.

Still, as I said, I understood the importance of the letter and I began studying every word, every hastily scribbled letter, every spelling mistake and grammatical error, learning, feeling and drawing from them secrets, which had hitherto been so secret that I did not know they existed. In fact, I think it is safe to say that I studied his letter as meticulously if I was a nun studying the Holy Scriptures. I could barely wait to come home from school and when I did, I locked myself in my room, put on “Bad”, and started reading again, only leaving my room when my mother yelled “dinner” for the fifth time. I even believe that for the first time in my life, there may have been a few days, where I did not do my homework.
So, this is how I learned the letter by heart.
Soon I would also learn, in my own small way, that every word he had written was true. When confronted with my mother’s question about the reason for my sudden asocial behavior and absentmindedness (she probably thought I was in trouble), I told her the truth, knowing only too well that she thought Michael was the most outrageous and least understandable of my teenage interests, but naively believing that his cry for help would make a difference.
She could not have cared less. She had made up her mind about him and the simple wisdom of not judging someone until you know them was totally lost on her. Weeks later, I saw a similar reaction in a Danish magazine, which simply wrote off most of the letter’s content as crazy ramblings. And just look how relatively little attention his letter got in the article in People, which prompted me to write this post:

“They desire our blood, not our pain…”
So true…
All he got in return was ridicule or people shrugging their shoulders, saying "whatever..."

For me, this was a defining moment. His letter changed everything for me. Everything…
From this moment on, I was no longer just a fan, but also a young woman, who was driven by love and a budding mother’s instinct, both directed at a man so many years older than her, but so worth loving and protecting nonetheless. 

And in all fairness…
My mother has since come around.


  1. That last line that you quote I think is the most revealing of Michael's true nature...of his ability to forgive, of his belief that those who criticize are seeking to embellish their own lives, not to cause pain. This reveals Michael's basic belief that there is good inside everyone, and that he could bring it out if given the opportunity.
    Michael once shocked Boteach to his core by telling him that he honestly believed even Hitler had some good inside...and that he could bring it out if he could just sit and talk with him.

    Yes, this was our first glimpse at his pain, and also of his kind and gentle soul.
    I was a more casual fan back then, but something about Michael drove me to start saving clippings about him, and this one paved the way for the 'sucker for a sad story' in me to be completely sucked into him and everything about him when I became aware of all the injustice dealt to him... which for me didn't happen until all the media coverage after he was gone.

    The hint of all to come was there for us in that letter, wasn't it.

    1. Hi Helen,
      Thanks for stopping by.

      Yes, the hint of all to come surely was there in that letter. Still, I do not think anyone in their wildest fantasies would have guessed that ultimately the crazy amount of injustice that he encountered in his life was a contributing factor to his premature death.

      Everybody has some good inside...
      I do not know... I guess it is true somehow. Even a murderer may treat his dog well - as did Hitler by the way. Still, I think at some point there can be so much evil that this - in our preception of the person - overrules whatever good may also be there, if that makes any sense.

  2. Enola,
    Beautifully said,, I have said this so many times.. Michael suffered so much at the hands of media scrutiny.. Those beautiful soulful eyes had pain. In is own way he wished to cure the world of some of that pain..I honestly believe he did that for some children, with the love he brought to the hospitals through his humantarian efforts..

    Thanks again for this wonderful blog...

  3. Yes, he was definitely hurt by the sensationalist media. Poor man... Imagine having to deal with such evil for so many years - and then still being able to love and heal. To me, that it the most amazing think about Michael. I do not think many people could endure what he did with so much grace.

    I think he made a big difference to many of those sick kids. Not just by supporting the hospitals financially but also because of his heart and his geniune love and care for children. (Look at his letter; First he wrote "my children", then crossed out "my". I belive that says it all.)

    I truly believe that he moved mountains sometimes.

    Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!