I still sometimes dance in the car while waiting at a red light. However, back in the day, when I had less sense than I have now, I would throw the car in park, jump out and dance in the street. When Whitney Houston sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, the joy, the exuberance, the hope, the possibility was too much to contain inside the car. The imperative: turn the volume up, put the car in park, jump out and dance. Celebrate life.
When she sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at a Super Bowl, this unashamed, unapologetic peacenik who at the time was completely disgusted by the first Iraq War, who then and now is suspicious of cheap, political patriotism, who hates with a perfect hatred the flag-waving jingoistic aspects of war – any war – got goose bumps. Her voice reverberated across the globe. My children and I stood up in the living room and cheered. To paraphrase Marvin Gaye: she made me want to holler and throw up both my hands. Peace theory IS patriotism. I was reminded of my patriotic duty.
Then, when we went to see “The Preacher’s Wife”, the movie with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, the entire sound track, especially her rendering of “Joy to the World” compelled us to go to the record store when the movie was over. The imperative: go to the music store. Go directly to the music store. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Whitney Houston is dead, but she leaves a legacy that will inspire, instruct and command us to be our better selves for as long as human beings have the technological capabilities to experience her spirit through her singing. Some Whitney Houston imperatives.
When she sang “A Greatest Love”, she points us to our responsibility to children. She reminded us that children are our future and the imperative is to “teach them well and let them lead the way.” We ought to make sure they recognize their own beauty and give them a sense of pride in themselves. Before we are fit to love another person, we must first love ourselves. God is love and the love that is at once beyond us and within us is the greatest love. The imperative: teach children to love themselves and never forget the child that lives inside each of us. And when life brings us to a lonely place, she tells us to “find your strength in love.”
This beautiful and talented woman sang of the strength of love, but our humanity means that there is weakness inside of our strength. Her weaknesses overtook her and we saw the ugliness of drug addiction. The unlovely, unrelenting reality show gaze exposed more than we needed to see of her private life. This is a cautionary tale. The imperative here: do not repeat her mistakes. No matter how large our talent, no matter how great our fame, no matter how much money we have an addiction can overtake us. The addiction can steal our talent, turn our fame into infamy, and deplete our fortunes.
And none of us are righteous enough to judge her.
When she sang what has become her signature song, a song written by Dolly Parton – I Will Always Love You – we know that sometimes true love leaves. It must for the sake of both lover and beloved. But, even through the separation, love lives and wishes the beloved joy and happiness. The imperative: Love wants what is best for the other, even if that means that one must leave. Love is eternal.
And at this moment, when we listen to her music with tears for her passing, we have a final imperative from her. In the song “My Love is Your Love” she commands:
“If I should die this very day, don’t cry ’cause on earth we wasn’t meant to stay. And no matter what the people say, I’ll be waiting for you after the Judgment Day.”
Whitney, we will do our best to allow your imperatives to guide us. Peace.