“Where do broken hearts go, can they find their way home, back to the open arms of a love that’s waiting there. And if somebody loves you-won’t they always love you. . .”
I am shocked. I am saddened. I was crying as I penned this column in the wee hours of Sunday morning. I feel as if I just lost a big sister, someone who has traveled on my life’s journey with me. Singer Whitney Houston is dead at the age of 48, just 3 years older than me, she was an icon of Gen X, and I have every 45, cassette and CD she ever made. Every single one of them.
As teenage black girls growing up in southern New Jersey in the 1980s, she was someone unimaginable to us: young, black, beautiful, from Newark, talented, energetic, and she possessed a voice like something out of Gabriel’s Angelic Choir in Heaven. She set a new standard for Gen X, she was our Diana Ross, our Billie Holiday. I keep listening to “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” my favorite Whitney Houston song of all time. How appropriate and how sad to listen to the lyrics of this song and see the images of her face so young, happy, and full of life flash across the screen.
Whitney’s death was tough news to take on an otherwise quiet, cold, snowy Saturday night in February here on the East Coast. I had just gotten off Twitter for the night to settle in by the warm fire to work on my second book about the power of human connection, and the need for those of us in this present generation who are so busy, so harried, so hurried, so worried, so disconnected to refocus our attention on what truly matters in life. God, who would have thought that Whitney Houston’s death, much like Soul Train founder Don Cornelius, and Michael Jackson’s deaths before her would prove so painfully my premise. Although we do not yet know the cause of death of Ms. Houston, we know this: She was troubled. She struggled with drug addiction, with depression, with career setbacks, a very public divorce and fall from entertainment royalty.
Unlike Don Cornelius who took his own life and was clearly battling depression, and Michael Jackson who arguably took his own life by consenting to the use of powerful prescription drugs to put himself to sleep routinely, Whitney Houston was seemingly on her way back up with the upcoming Sparkle movie, and rumors that she may even serve as a judge on one of the American Idol type shows. She looked well. But, I remember another songstress, Phyllis Hyman that I had occasion to see in concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC in the summer of 1994; she looked fabulous, her voice was great, she said she had just returned to church, given her life back to God, and was looking toward her future. Months later she died of an overdose.
Much will be written in the next days, weeks, and months about Whitney and we will all mourn her loss for years to come. Yet, what I wanted to impart to us all tonight is this: Stop. Look. Listen.. to those around you. People are hurting right in front of our very eyes, but we often turn away or we don’t want to be bothered. We are too busy after all. Tragically, we are losing the great ones and our very own loved ones to depression, sadness, suicide, isolation, drugs, brokenness, or worse. Folks, whether you believe in a Creator or not, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, one thing we all know for sure: We will all surely die. This is something we all must experience. Death comes as a thief, none of us knows the day or hour so we would be wise to live our lives fruitfully, faithfully, and fulfilled in whatever time we have.
My personal take away from yet another tragic loss of such a young gifted fellow human being is this: We need one another. We are all connected. We all need love. We all need support. We all need encouragement. And most of all we all need redemption, and second chances when we fail. We all need and want forgiveness when we err, and we want to trust again every time we are hurt. We want to love again and again and again. Sadly, we don’t. When we fail, or we get hurt; we often get stuck. We wallow in regret, guilt, and self-deprivation. The only way we survive the storms and shoals of our lives is through the grace of a loving God, the helping hands of good friends, and the loving hearts of our families. Thus, we should take greater care of what truly matter. Take care of what is truly precious. All we get to take with us is love, folks. That is it. None of the accolades, accomplishments, or money comes with us.
In the final analysis, Whitney Houston did it her way. She knew great heights, great success, great fame, great fortune, and great accolades. Yet, she also knew great pain, great humiliation, great sadness. Despite it all, she gave us a great gift in her unforgettable voice. May she rest in peace, may God bless her family especially her young daughter, and may we all pause truly for a moment to ask how we find our way back home, to what truly matters in our lives.
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Sophia A. Nelson contributes to The Washington Post, CNN Opinion, TheGrio.com, TheRoot.com, NPR, and is featured regularly on all of the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) as well as Cable outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, FOX, and BET.