My Childhood, My Sabbath, My Freedom
Article written by Michael Jackson - published on belief.net
What I wanted more than anything was to be ordinary.
The Sabbath was when I could be.
"Have you seen my childhood?
I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne…"
Written and Composed by Michael Jackson
In one of our conversations together, my friend
Rabbi Shmuley told me that he had asked some
of his colleagues–-writers, thinkers, and
artists-–to pen their reflections on the Sabbath.
He then suggested that I write down my own
thoughts on the subject, a project I found
intriguing and timely due to the recent death of
Rose Fine, a Jewish woman who was my beloved
childhood tutor and who traveled with me and my
brothers when we were all in the Jackson Five.
When people see the television appearances I
made when I was a little boy--8 or 9 years old and
just starting off my lifelong music career--they see
a little boy with a big smile. They assume that this
little boy is smiling because he is joyous, that he
is singing his heart out because he is happy, and
that he is dancing with an energy that never quits
because he is carefree.
But while singing and dancing were, and
undoubtedly remain, some of my greatest joys, at
that time what I wanted more than anything else
were the two things that make childhood the most
wondrous years of life, namely, playtime and a
feeling of freedom. The public at large has yet to
really understand the pressures of childhood
celebrity, which, while exciting, always exacts a
very heavy price.
More than anything, I wished to be a normal little
boy. I wanted to build tree houses and go to
roller-skating parties. But very early on, this
became impossible. I had to accept that my
childhood would be different than most others.
But that’s what always made me wonder what an
ordinary childhood would be like.
There was one day a week, however, that I was
able to escape the stages of Hollywood and the
crowds of the concert hall. That day was the
Sabbath. In all religions, the Sabbath is a day that
allows and requires the faithful to step away from
the everyday and focus on the exceptional. I
learned something about the Jewish Sabbath in
particular early on from Rose, and my friend
Shmuley further clarified for me how, on the
Jewish Sabbath, the everyday life tasks of cooking
dinner, grocery shopping, and mowing the lawn
are forbidden so that humanity may make the
ordinary extraordinary and the natural miraculous.
Even things like shopping or turning on lights are
forbidden. On this day, the Sabbath, everyone in
the world gets to stop being ordinary.
But what I wanted more than anything was to be
ordinary. So, in my world, the Sabbath was the day
I was able to step away from my unique life and
glimpse the everyday.
Sundays were my day for "Pioneering," the term
used for the missionary work that Jehovah’s
Witnesses do. We would spend the day in the
suburbs of Southern California, going door to
door or making the rounds of a shopping mall,
distributing our Watchtower magazine. I continued
my pioneering work for years and years after my
career had been launched.
Up to 1991, the time of my Dangerous tour, I
would don my disguise of fat suit, wig, beard, and
glasses and head off to live in the land of everyday
America, visiting shopping plazas and tract
homes in the suburbs. I loved to set foot in all
those houses and catch sight of the shag rugs
and La-Z-Boy armchairs with kids playing
Monopoly and grandmas baby-sitting and all
those wonderfully ordinary and, to me, magical
scenes of life. Many, I know, would argue that
these things seem like no big deal. But to me they
were positively fascinating.
The funny thing is, no adults ever suspected who
this strange bearded man was. But the children,
with their extra intuition, knew right away. Like the
Pied Piper of Hamlin, I would find myself trailed by
eight or nine children by my second round of the
shopping mall. They would follow and whisper
and giggle, but they wouldn't reveal my secret to
their parents. They were my little aides. Hey,
maybe you bought a magazine from me. Now
you’re wondering, right?
Sundays were sacred for two other reasons as I
was growing up. They were both the day that I
attended church and the day that I spent
rehearsing my hardest. This may seem against
the idea of "rest on the Sabbath," but it was the
most sacred way I could spend my time:
developing the talents that God gave me. The best
way I can imagine to show my thanks is to make
the very most of the gift that God gave me.
Church was a treat in its own right. It was again a
chance for me to be "normal." The church elders
treated me the same as they treated everyone
else. And they never became annoyed on the days
that the back of the church filled with reporters
who had discovered my whereabouts. They tried
to welcome them in. After all, even reporters are
the children of God.
When I was young, my whole family attended
church together in Indiana. As we grew older, this
became difficult, and my remarkable and truly
saintly mother would sometimes end up there on
her own. When circumstances made it
increasingly complex for me to attend, I was
comforted by the belief that God exists in my heart,
and in music and in beauty, not only in a building.
But I still miss the sense of community that I felt
there--I miss the friends and the people who
treated me like I was simply one of them. Simply
human. Sharing a day with God.
When I became a father, my whole sense of God
and the Sabbath was redefined. When I look into
the eyes of my son, Prince, and daughter, Paris, I
see miracles and I see beauty. Every single day
becomes the Sabbath. Having children allows me
to enter this magical and holy world every moment
of every day. I see God through my children. I
speak to God through my children. I am humbled
for the blessings He has given me.
There have been times in my life when I, like
everyone, has had to wonder about God’s
existence. When Prince smiles, when Paris
giggles, I have no doubts. Children are God's gift
to us. No--they are more than that--they are the
very form of God's energy and creativity and love.
He is to be found in their innocence, experienced
in their playfulness.
My most precious days as a child were those
Sundays when I was able to be free. That is what
the Sabbath has always been for me. A day of
freedom. Now I find this freedom and magic every
day in my role as a father. The amazing thing is,
we all have the ability to make every day the
precious day that is the Sabbath. And we do this
by rededicating ourselves to the wonders of
childhood. We do this by giving over our entire
heart and mind to the little people we call son and
daughter. The time we spend with them is the
Sabbath. The place we spend it is called
* * *
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is the most
successful recording artist of all time. With Rabbi
Shmuley Boteach, author of several best-selling
books, including "Kosher Sex" and "Dating
Secrets of the Ten Commandments," and winner
of the Times Preacher of the Year 2000, he is
currently launching a child awareness and
prioritization campaign called Heal the Kids, of
which Mr. Jackson is founder and chairman. The
pair are also working on a book about what
parents and adults can learn from children and
how men and women may recapture lost, yet
virtuous, childlike qualities.