By night I am deeply embroiled in an intensive cultural-criticism training program (eating microwave popcorn by myself and watching cable television) but my day job is about children.
I won't say too much about it, just that I am fortunate enough to work for a place whose core philosophy is based around this strange idea that "children" are "people" -- with thoughts and dreams and hopes and senses of humor and sad things in their lives just like you and me.
And if you've ever spent significant time around kids who are not your kids, you probably know that while "children" taken as a group are just about as likely to be kind or interesting as "people" taken as a group, individual children can be astonishingly difficult to not fall totally in love with.
I referenced recently that I think heart responds to heart, and that's as true between people as it is between people and songs. And kids -- even though they are capable of incredibly frustrating habits -- kids have heart coming out their ears.
The song: Michael Jackson, "Little Christmas Tree"; 1973
Back at nearly the beginning of my involvement with this organization, before I worked there, before I even suspected that one day I could work there, I went to an elementary school one Friday morning and found that it was the day of their Halloween parade.
As volunteers we usually sat with students in their classrooms, doing things like encouraging students to write their names at the top of their worksheets and reading over persuasive essays about school uniforms. It was great. It was a glimpse of what life is actually like in the day-to-day for children, which is something most of us have totally forgotten.
But on this day, we joined a handful of other adults lining the halls and watched the Halloween parade. It was 2009. And every tenth kid, boy or girl, was dressed as Michael Jackson.
The thing was frickin' ADORABLE. Kids, particularly the younger ones, have this off-balance, glazed-eye way of parading that makes costumes like Indiana Jones and Miss America unbearably charming.
The day was a momentous one for me because I saw for the first time the humanity of children. And seeing children dressed as Michael Jackson (who had died earlier that year) brought home to me as well the incredible pathos of his story.
Michael Jackson was a gifted child, with talent so immense that it catapulted not only him, but his entire family, to not only fame, but ultra-mega-fame. Talent like that is scary because it never happens without a price.
The child Michael Jackson was incredibly sad and lonely. This was obscured by his mega-fame and the danceability of his music, but no one sells "all alone on Christmas Eve" like that if they don't feel it.
To pretend that children don't have the emotional depth to feel sadness and loneliness is a defense mechanism against the sadness and loneliness of life. An understandable impulse.
But one of the most beautiful things about children is their power for empathy and their ability to identify with others -- a power and ability, I think, that really exemplifies what is most beautiful about humanity, and that also indicates in itself the capacity for emotional pain.
Very few children are Michael Jackson, whose mega-talent means he represents something greater than himself simply by being himself.
To my mind he represents a very-hard-to-accept truth about the vividness and darkness of life, as seen by a child.