In the midst of the outpouring of love for Whitney Houston after the shocking report of her death yesterday, there was an occasional person who asked, “Are you surprised?” or “What did you expect?”
Yes, I was completely surprised because I expected Whitney to make it. Maybe “expected” was a strong word. Perhaps I just really, REALLY wanted her to.
There was a great commercial on T.V. a few years back that showed a classroom full of children during the 1980’s. The teacher asked the children how old they would be in the Year 2000 and the kids could not even comprehend the concept enough to do the math. So, the teacher tells them, “You will be 28!” at which point every child in the room recoils in horror at the thought of ever being that old. Now, if you can resist the overwhelming urge to kick the crap out of these smug little bastards, you’d see that there is no absolute age at which the “old” switch is flipped and we instinctively migrate to Florida with 3 blue-haired roommates in search of the best early bird specials and bridge games. Old age is relative.
So absent a guideline, I am just vain enough to be shocked when anyone my age dies. Death is for old people. My age will always be too young to die. Today. Tomorrow. Twenty years from now.
So, no, I didn’t expect Whitney to die from a drug overdose at 48. Just like I don’t expect to die from cirrhosis of the liver at 48 (y’all know I enjoy wine!) Or my friends who smoke to die from lung cancer at 48. Or those of us who overeat to die from diabetes at 48. Or those of us who are sedentary to die from heart disease at 48. I don’t expect it yet these detrimental lifestyle choices are far more common than drug abuse. I’m sure we know more people who chronically overeat than abuse drugs.
If I did lose a friend to these lifestyle choices, I would certainly hope no one would ask ”Are you surprised?” and “What did you expect?” Because at the end of the day, I want to believe we always have time to overcome our bad choices and get better with age, not worse. I just don’t expect these choices to kill us at 48. When you’re young, you always feel like there’s time. Perhaps the most dangerous lifestyle choice of all is youthfulness.
Looking back, I laughed along with the comedians who made jokes about the waif-like songbird who, in retrospect, was waging a spiritual battle against her own demons and losing. “Crack is whack!” — it was just so funny. The life lesson for me is that even when a cry for help rhymes, it is still a cry for help. I’m not saying there was anything anyone could do. Like anyone else suffering the disease of addiction, she had to choose life and health for herself. I’m just saying that I didn’t have to sit on the sidelines and laugh.
RIP Whitney Houston. You are finally in the arms of the One who can fill the void.