July 18, 2009
There is No HelpBy Judith Acosta
In a published commiseration for the tragic death of Michael Jackson in The Hartford Courant, Peter Tork (the former bass player for the Monkees) summed up the King of Pop's emotional essence in this statement:
Even as I read that, my hand went up as if I were still in the third grade, my mind filled with an odd admixture of confusion, eagerness, and sorrow: "Uh, I have a question..." Is either of those things true? Are they both true? Can they both be true simultaneously? If so, how far out into our culture does that self-conflicted idea ripple? And what in God's name does that mean for us?
"There is no help..." Those words rang in my head for hours after I read his article. What would make a person believe that? How would it manifest? What hopelessness would overtake him? What would he have to do to compensate for it? Particularly if the first thought were also true: "You can't do this life thing alone."
It's a nightmarish paradox: To urgently need help and believe that ultimately there is none. To me, the despair is unthinkable.
No wonder Michael Jackson nearly cut himself into pieces. No wonder there's more Viagra, Prozac, and pain pills in Hollywood than anywhere outside of a pharmaceutical plant. No wonder people are running back and forth to doctors to have their breasts augmented and their sexes changed.
If what he is saying is true, it does not bode well for our relationships, whether they are intimate or business-based. It is the sort of paradox that corrupts core programming, distorts perception, and generates behavior that is supremely syphilitic and self-destructive. If we are in the sort of conflict that Peter Tork contends we are in, we are stuck in a hamster wheel of discontent, distrust and disappointment. We long for connection, we know we "can't do it alone" but we can never surrender to love. We are left forever searching, forever lost.
But, he did allude to an answer, even if it was only parenthetical. He wrote: "(I have more recently found the help it takes to get me through life, but that's for another time.)" It was curiously and (obviously) deliberately vague. I initially mused -- had he found some answer in the sermons of Wayne Dyer? In the embrace of an old lover to whom he could relinquish his pride and fears in his latter days? A re-connection with a distanced family member now that he too was facing the end? Had he finally found God?
The other day a client who finally came to an acknowledgment of powerlessness (appropriately so) asked me if I really believed in God and an immortal soul. I told her I did. She asked me if it helped.
I asked her, "What do you mean? Helped in what way?"
"Just helped, you know, be happy?"
I told her it had less to do with happiness than with contentment and joy. But, yes, it had helped me enormously.
She asked, "But what if it's a lie?"
And I answered, "What if it's not?" I had presented her with a post-modern, colloquial form of Pascal's Wager.
All I heard for a moment was her breath as she considered the possibilities that there was help -- not just an empty coterie of aphorisms or a new self-esteem building technique but a Love that actually promised everything we ever longed for, a connection, a restoration, a redemption that was limitless.
In my work and in my life there is help. But it does not come from fuller lips or ever-lasting sexual attractiveness. It does not come from money or being invited to the "right" parties or awards that attest to our greatness in this world. It will never come from the things Michael Jackson sought or the insanity the sycophants around him perpetuated. It will not come from ourselves or the people we pay to compliment us. It will not come from bigger homes, bigger cars, or bigger erections. All of those things are booby prizes. They are the crooked fingers in the creaking hallways we all know how to avoid and fear in the movies but follow foolishly in our lives.
I mourn for Michael Jackson. I mourn for all those who walk through life believing that love is a by-product of bling. I mourn for all those who live under the delusion that there is no help when it's right there, waiting. And I'm relieved for people like Peter Tork who have found it.
Judith Acosta is the co-author of The Worst Is Over: Verbal First Aid to Calm, Relieve Pain, Promote Healing and Save Lives (2002), She is a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and crisis counselor.