It happened almost the minute I walked off the plane. There was a feeling of familiarity, and of stepping back in time to 2010.
I greeted friends that I had met last year, and met others for the first time. It was wonderful, yet strange to see the faces of those I had only communicated with via the internet and by telephone.
Yes, this was familiar ground to me. Last year, I had left behind a piece of my heart and soul, and I expected to feel the same emotions I had at that time, but I didn’t. I expected to find Michael where I had felt his presence last year, but I didn’t. Instead, I sensed a difference in the air; a difference in me. Perhaps it was because the grief and pain wasn’t quite so raw and new, not so all-consuming. There was silent resignation within me that he had physically departed, and no more would we see the life-force shine from eyes that had on lit up our world. I know deep down inside I had already reached that acceptance long before my trip, but being in that space where Michael had lived and breathed, reinforced it.
I had felt his spirit at Neverland when I made my first journey. The air had held traces of laughter and music, and softly spoken words. Lingering and tangible, I had felt the happiness and peace that had once reigned in this place, and the ground had welcomed me with open arms. But it had been a gift given just for that moment; fleeting and temporary.
My second journey here held nothing of my previous experience. The air was still, as shimmering heat filled the valley. My eyes skimmed over hills, and along the road that led to his home, forever hidden from my view. And I waited with eyes closed for a sense of connection to return, to hear the quiet whispers of yesteryear, but silence hung heavy. This ground was waiting, as was I, for its beloved child to return, because Michael was not here, not this time. I knew that this would be my last visit to Neverland, but I felt no sense of abandonment or disappointment. There was no sadness as I turned my back and walked away, rather, I felt I was being led to find him elsewhere, and I did.
Unexpectedly, I found Michael in the living; in the smiling, happy faces of children eager to share how he had inspired them. Their simple, yet beautiful dot drawings proudly displayed before an audience who bathed in their youthful glow of exuberance. I found Michael in a teacher’s quiet dedication and love, in a principal’s smile, in a parent’s commitment, and in the soft lilt of an Irish tongue. His hand shook, blue eyes clouded as tears filled, and his voice broke as he recalled time spent with Michael. No doubt was left in any of us sitting in that special place that Patrick had truly loved, and dearly missed his friend. A gift was given and a connection made.
Michael was there in the strength and spirituality, and the clear brown eyes of another friend, one whose presence filled the room with light. A soft hand shook ours, and strong arms encircled us; arms that had at one time, wrapped themselves around Michael. Humble and genuine, Jonathan shared precious memories of 33 years, retelling conversations, and expressing feelings openly. We felt drawn to, and held captive in the same space he had shared with Michael. We were there. Another gift given, another connection made, drawing us closer together and to Michael.
He was there in the sparkling waters and gentle waves of a Pacific beach. In the clear blue sky and hot sun, in the cool water as it washed over my feet, and in the quiet company of my companions, I felt Michael’s presence quietly watching, and smiling at the simple pleasure we felt in walking across warm sand, and breathing in salty air.
I found him at Disneyland in the excited laughter of adults and children; in the magic and fantasy so perfectly created for all ages, just as once Michael’s Neverland had been. On a giant screen he came at me in 3D, and he was there in the exhausted silence from having spent a day as that long, lost child of my past. He was there in the fans that waited on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame for their dots to be placed near his heart. Their eyes lit in happiness as cameras clicked, but tears expressed a moment worth more than any picture could capture.
When Jonathan and Alex joined on stage, I found Michael again. He flowed through the music, coming alive once again through the beat of drums and bass guitar. Two men became lost in time, as once again they came together to play for Michael. Absorbed in the rhythm and power of “Earth Song” and “Man in the Mirror”; living it, breathing it, feeling it, they became the music and the music became them. They were not just giving Michael 100%; they were giving him 10,000%, as they always had, as they always would, not because he had demanded it, but because they had loved and respected him too much not to give all of themselves to him and the performance.
Hands clapped, bodies danced, and voices sang. The atmosphere changed, and became energized; charged with electricity. I stood silent, and unable to move as I watched and listened. I kept looking for Michael to appear on the stage with them, but then, I knew he already was. He was inside them. Another gift given, another connection made.
And finally, I found him at Forest Lawn. Not down the cold, dark corridor where his body lay, but in the banners and cards; the gifts and thousands of flowers laid by those who had come to honor his life with their tokens of love. He was there in the hearts of the fans that had gathered. He was there in the hearts and beautiful faces of my friends. He was there in his brother Randy, as he stepped from his car to connect with the fans, and in one special man, who sat with a few us in a quiet moment. A man, who is creating an image of Michael on canvas, joining a world together through magical little dots; a man, who when once he found out that a tiny bug was on his back, asked that it not be harmed or killed when removed. Another gift given, another connection made.
Last year, I told you that a piece of my heart and soul was left behind. This year I left more, and gave pieces of myself to be carried over distances and oceans, scattered, but still connected through a journey shared, through words spoken, memories and silent tears, and warm embraces. I had been touched by something very special and beautiful; a gift given and a connection made; forever changed. I now carry the knowledge and understanding that something bigger and greater than me, than of all of us, is at work here. And that is love.
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