“It was August, and I was looking up at the sky”, Michael Jackson wrote in 1992. It’s August again, many years later. Jackson’s words form part of a short philosophical piece of writing that he included in his second book Dancing the Dream (1992). In his short essay, Jackson discusses the topic of growing wings, which was all about having faith and taking responsibility.
“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings”, J.M. Barrie wrote in his novel The Little White Bird. It’s a lesson his beloved character Peter Pan must learn before becoming the little boy who lives with pirates and fairies in Neverland.
Jackson loved the tale of Peter Pan. The singer’s ranch, aptly named Neverland, was a place where children could play and adults were encouraged to be childlike again. But unlike Peter Pan, who rather selfishly exploits the world around him, Jackson understood that the ability to fly – or to reach great heights – involved a process of soul searching and learning to take responsibility.
In an essay called ‘Wings without me’, Jackson explores the topic of growing wings and taking flight. Observing a falcon soaring on currents of hot air – something he may have seen at his ranch – Jackson longs to identify with the bird, whose boundless freedom forms a stark contrast with Jackson’s highly protected life.
“Higher and higher it spiraled, until with one unearthly shriek, it disappeared”, Jackson writes. As the image of ultimate freedom disappears, Jackson feels left behind. Limited to the confines of Neverland, Jackson’s life resembled much of that of Peter Pan, who was forever bound to his fairytale land of dream and wonder.
Freedom, however, comes in many different shapes and sizes. “Then my spirit said, ‘The falcon’s way is not the only way. Your thoughts are as free as any bird’”, Jackson writes, “So I shut my eyes and my spirit took off.” For a short moment he is free again, living a life he never had, going places he has never seen.
Yet it isn’t long before Jackson realizes that freedom alone does not make a man free. “’You grew wings without me,’ my heart said. ‘What good is freedom without love?’ So I went quietly to the bed of a sick child and sang him a lullaby.” Love and responsibility, Jackson seems to say, add value and meaning to personal freedom. Without it, humanity ultimately fails where it should begin.
During his life, Jackson translated this philosophy into compassion and care for children worldwide. It was a childhood dream come true. In an NBC interview in June 2010, his mother Katherine recalled: “Remember when they used to show the little African kids starving to death, flies all around their mouth and face? Well, we – Michael and I – would lay there on the floor watching TV, and Michael looked up at me and said, ‘Mother,’ he said, ‘one day’ – he was only a kid then – ‘I’m going to do something about this.’”
Jackson kept his promise. As his fame and fortune grew, he began to share his wealth with the underprivileged and those in need. Unknown to many, he visited hospitals and orphanages worldwide, pleading for improved services, better facilities, and more personal care. To jumpstart things, he spent hours visiting abandoned, sick and dying children, offering practical help to improve their lives and never leaving without making a substantial donation.
Still, these moments of alleviating the pain of the most vulnerable did not soothe Jackson’s spiritual ache. The world’s suffering, after all, never ends. “He fell asleep smiling”, Jackson continues, referring to the sick child in his story, “and my heart took off, joining my spirit as it circles over the earth. I was free and loving, but still something was wrong.”
After living his dream of healing the world, Jackson is confronted with reality. “’You grew wings without me,’ my body said. ‘Your flights are only imagination.’” Here Jackson has stumbled upon an age-old truth. The heart may dream of a better world, and we may even live this dream for a small moment in time, but reality – symbolized by the physical presence of the body – puts our feet back on the ground.
Nevertheless, throughout this process of self-discovery, Jackson’s faith and determination have grown: “So I looked into books that I had ignored before and read about saints in every age who actually flew”, he writes before adding a quote by Saint Teresa who levitated on more than one occasion during her life: “As if carried aloft by a great eagle, my ecstasy lifted me into the air.”
Slowly Jackson understands that everything, even the seemingly impossible, is possible for those who have faith. Faith is free from limits. Faith embraces all and unites all. Thus Jackson experiences that “…for the first time, I didn’t feel left behind.”
When all life is seen as divine
Jackson’s essay seems to point out that perfect faith, whether in the beauty of the natural world, in humanity, in the sacredness of life, in one’s talents, or in God, opens life up to the possibility of so much more. Perfect faith comprehends that the fullness and sacredness of life, the divine, is present in all and through all. It’s precisely when this knowledge reveals itself in the human heart, that we grow wings and are able to fly.
I was the falcon, the child and the saint. In my eyes their lives became sacred, and the truth came home: When all life is seen as divine, everyone grows wings. – Michael Jackson –
© Annemarie Latour