I think this might be my first pop culture post. So be it.
I couldn’t stay up late enough to watch the Grammy Awards (and I’d never heard of Adele, so that tells you how extraordinarily out of touch I am when it comes to music, movies, and more these days), so I watched the re-play of Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to Whitney Houston tonight on CNN Entertainment.
Before she sang one word, I started crying.
Because I just knew what she would sing, and you know that song, that song that struck a nerve in anyone who’s ever loved anyone since its release by Whitney Houston in 1985.
And because I remember holding a pretend microphone in front of the mirror in the 6th grade and singing along to “How Will I Know?”
And because although I wasn’t a recent Whitney fan, there is no denying that she was this tremendous talent, a beautiful, confident, strong woman, a heartfelt and ultimately heartbreaking celebrity who made us feel, hope, love, and ultimately, grieve.
I wasn’t going to talk about public health in this post. My intent was to lift up a woman whose time wasn’t up, at least not in the hearts and minds of the American and international public. A little over two years ago, Ms. Houston appeared on television’s The Oprah Show for a deeply personal interview. Asked about her drug use and break from show business, she said:
“It was too much. So much to try to live up to, to try to be, and I wanted out.”
Now one can protest that life can’t be all that tough for a multi-millionaire who achieved the kind of popular success that she did. Undoubtedly she was surrounded by personal assistants and staff of all sorts as well as plenty of luxury and extras that you and I may never experience in our lifetime. But in the end, and in the beginning, she was exactly like you and me. A baby. A human being. A person who, when exposed to the challenge and stress that life brings, had to make a choice, and then a series of choices. She made them for her own reasons and we cannot claim to understand what they were.
Unfortunately, Ms. Houston began to make choices that led to a very sad ending to what was once called a fairytale story.
In late 2001, I got a job at a small nonprofit organization that practiced harm reduction. The philosophy of harm reduction is basically the antithesis of “just say no”. It means that we applaud those clients who choose to do fewer drugs, smoke fewer cigarettes, and have less unsafe sex today than yesterday. We confirm their path toward a healthier lifestyle by giving them support when they choose the healthier thing to do, and also when they choose otherwise. We are clear about not putting themselves, or others, in harm’s way. But we recognize the value in supporting one’s journey toward wellbeing by taking it one step at a time.
I don’t have a real strong ending to this post. Ms. Houston’s death makes me sad. I don’t watch much television, and I skip over the ads that pop up on MSN when I shut down Hotmail (I know, it’s ridiculous that I still have a Hotmail account anyway). But I can’t ignore when such a young (and 48 is young), rich (and I don’t mean dollars-rich), and beautiful talent disappears unexpectedly.
I wish we lived in a world that allowed choice, and supported harm reduction when that works, and also supported abstinence or just say no when that works, or any combination of the above. But we don’t, and so what ends up happening is that someone famous dies tragically in a hotel room – alone.
It’s terribly sad. Be well, readers. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones today.