Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thank You, Whitney

Growing up, my older brother Mike and I shared a room. I slept on the bottom bunk, he on the top. Four years older than me, Mike was always boldly himself. He never bowed to culture, never did something just because peers did it, or because it was supposedly "cool." Instead, Mike did volunteer work with Best Buddies--a program that paired a special education student with a student not in special education; Mike hugged everybody (read: everybody); Mike laughed like the wind; Mike always had time for children.

And Mike loved the music of Whitney Houston.

In our bedroom, Mike and I managed to cover the ceiling and walls with massive posters of three people: Whitney Houston, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. They were the ones we feel asleep looking at, the ones to whom we woke in the morning. They were constant reminders to us of boldness, courage, conviction, and the need to use your voice.

On timeless occasions, I would come inside from basketball practice to hear Whitney roaring from our stereo, "I will always love you" and even over and above Whitney's voice--though the stereo's volume was up to its highest decibel--there was Mike's voice: bold, believing, joyous.

Whitney came to represent something for my brother Mike--and she still does. She came to represent, in Mike's own words, "the importance of being real. Whitney showed us that your life doesn't have to be perfect. You sing with all your heart, and you love with all your heart--and your mistakes can never overpower the gifts you offer others in generosity and love."

And, through Mike, Whitney came to represent the same thing for me.

So it was a shock today when Jennifer came downstairs and told me the news of Whitney's passing. I felt this weird sort of stillness, and I was transported back to eighth grade. Mike and I, laying on our bunk beds, talking about life, and Whitney staring down at us from her perch on our ceiling, flanked by Martin and Malcolm.

As Mike and I talked on the phone today, Mike reminded me that her legacy lives on. "Remember to just sing a few lines of I Will Always Love You to everyone you see today, okay?"

And knowing my brother Mike--the effusive, love-giving, life-sharing person he is--he meant it. And the visions of Mike belting out Whitney's songs on family vacations, on crosswalks in public, and to friends and family are vivid, enduring.

So, from across the pond, I owe Whitney a big thank you. Thanks for meaning so much to my brother Michael and, by extension, to me.

Mike and I on his visit to York, England in 2011