By Laura McCollough Moss
The death of Whitney Houston has stirred controversy as the nation mourns a woman who many viewed as a flawed, troubled diva. Just as we saw in the period immediately following the death of Steve Jobs (a founder of Apple Inc.), facebook users are posting emotionally-charged images of brave men and women who have given their lives for our country; captioned with words to the effect that, in grieving the deaths of popular idols, we are somehow denigrating their memory. As a proud American citizen who has devoted some thought to the subject, I would like to try to put this issue into perspective.
On March 31st of 1991, Whitney Houston welcomed heroes of the Gulf War at a performance at Norfolk Naval Air Station, Virginia. The video can be seen on YouTube, and although twenty years have passed, it was a beautiful broadcast that remains stirring and inspirational to this day. Her classic version of "The Star Spangled Banner" brought tears to the eyes of soldiers and civilians alike; and resurrected national pride.
Along with creative performing and visual artists who preceded Whitney, her contemporaries and those who have come after her, she has become embedded in the soundtrack of our lives. How many of our military heroes have sung and danced to Whitney's hits in Hummers, tanks and barracks, or attached special meaning to her songs? In "The Greatest Love of All", she sang:
Everybody's searching for a hero,
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my need.
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me
When Whitney sang this song for members of the Navy, their response was tremendous. Thousands of sailors swayed with heads held high, hands held up, and some waving flags, raptly enjoying the sincere and moving tribute. Although Whitney's musical ministry and outreach diminished in later years due to her personal struggles, it cannot be disputed that she had a loving and giving heart, and that, through her limitless talent, she brought a great deal of pleasure and happiness not only to heroes, but to the world.
Our military heroes would be the last to place the value of their lives above hers; or anyone's for that matter. Humility is one of the hallmarks of heroism. They fight and die for us all, and before that, they are human beings with the same love of American culture that we all possess. The lives of soldiers are enriched by technology (yes, Apple products; and Microsoft's Skype), good music, hilarious and inspirational movies, books and magazines, the miracle of Kevlar and other life-saving equipment, Hershey's chocolate, and countless other of life's blessings. In that sense, for their service to those who serve us, individuals like Jobs and Houston are indeed heroes.
As for Whitney's battle with drugs, alcohol, and self-destruction, our soldiers understand that as well. The re acclimation to society is a hard transition for men and women bruised by combat, and many of them wrestle the same demons. Illness and addiction are not all that make up the person they plague, and it is possible for them to coexist with traits of humanity, strength of character and sensitivity. The ones who are hurting understand this fact; unfortunately, the remainder of us often do not.
The English poet John Donne (1572-1631) wrote: "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Our lives are diminished by the death of Miss Whitney Houston. She was one among us, and out of appreciation and respect, we mourn her passing.