Michael Jackson is still dead.
As though afraid that Americans would forget, the media could talk of nothing else. Listeners, viewers and readers were treated to special reports and tributes, pictures and interviews, and talk, talk talk. The “King of Pop” had passed.
He was not famous for his humanity, his wisdom, his courage our his kindness. He was famous for one thing: Entertaining. In sad but fitting tribute, his memorial was entertainment. Famous singers and sports stars, songs, a little silence, some multi-media special effects. For those who consume entertainment, it looked like a church service. For someone like me, intimately acquainted with services, it looked like entertainment. They told stories, they sang songs, they talked of his virtues, they said we would never forget. It was as though the world of entertaining could only mourn by giving us more entertainment. Perhaps as long as the band played on, we might forget why we had gathered. But we couldn’t help but notice: Dressed with flowers and bathed in light, it looked more like a centerpiece than a concession to death, but it was still a cold, hard coffin.
Michael Jackson is still dead.
Wisconsin was in mourning too, but not for him.
Flags flew at half mast. Newspapers told us of the plans. The city of Peshtigo cried. One of its sons, the young and handsome Steven Drees, had joined the Army. He left for Afghanistan on his on 19th birthday, and five weeks later he came back in a coffin. His Army unit was ambushed by insurgents and Steven fought back, defending his brothers bravely until a piece of sharpnel pierced his brain. They flew his body home where it was met by the Patriot Guard Riders, veterans on hogs who provide a very solemn and very Wisconsin escort to deceased military. Engines throbbing and flags flying, they wound their way to his old school.
Steven’s body was laid out in the gym where he had played basketball. More than a thousand sobbing friends and family gathered to wish him farewell. His coach told us what a great teammate he had been, and how from now on he will award someone “Teammate of the Year” in honor of Steven Drees. A general said he was well-liked, a good soldier. The priest said that God is love. And still, his star-spangled coffin lay cold and mute, a testimony to human powerlessness. His former teammates could do nothing for him but sob quietly. The American Army, arguably the greatest in the world, was powerless. We could have sent men to conquer the moon if we wanted, but we couldn’t help Steven. Our human skill at taking life bested our skill at saving it.
Steven entered the afterlife unarmed and alone. The freedoms he fought for no longer apply to him. Democracy cannot help him, and injustice cannot hurt him. Though the flag drapes his coffin, it cannot save him. The general presented his parents with two posthumous medals but they hardly seemed to comfort his family. The casket was walked out by 6 strong men, each as young as he was. His twin brother, widowed girlfriend, family and friends marched out. Steven Drees, young, likeable, full of promise, was dead.
As dead as Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Robert MacNamara, Oscar Mayer.
It shouldn’t end this way.
And it doesn’t. Someone has conquered the afterlife. One of our own made it to the other side and came back again. Like an infiltrator behind enemy lines, he fought and defeated the last and greatest enemy we face: Death itself.
I do not know whether Steven was ready to go or not. I do not know the state of his soul. Nor do I know in the afterlife whether Michael Jackson will be white or black. But I do know one thing: Michael Jackson is dead. And Steven Drees is dead. But Jesus Christ is not dead. And therein lies our hope.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” — Jesus Christ (John 11:25-6)
“If we beleive that Jesus died and rose, God will bring forth with him from the dead those also who have fallen asleep believing in him.” — St. Paul (1 Thes. 4:14)