After so many days of celebrity rubbernecking, Michael Jackson's memorial service in Los Angeles reminded us that it was a father, son, brother and friend who was suddenly gone, and the grief in the room was raw.
So there was consolation, in Lionel Richie's promise that "Jesus is love/ He won't let you down." There was confrontation, with mention of the rumors that death had not laid to rest: "Being judged, ridiculed how much pain can one take?" Michael's brother Marlon asked. Above all, there was community, created by the music Michael made and rendered by the artists he inspired.
That community now includes a new generation of fans who discovered Michael during these days of retrospection and rushed to download "Thriller" as their ringtone and call up his videos on YouTube. They had their representatives as well, in the form of the Jackson children we had seldom seen before. His own childhood melted by fame, Michael tried obsessively to keep his sons and daughter from being burned by its glare. They didn't go to school; they appeared in public masked and veiled. And so it was almost a shock to see them, with the TV camera behaving cautiously at first, sweeping over them discreetly as they sat with their aunts and uncles and grandparents.
But as the hours went by, the camera began to linger, seek the children out. And in the end, when everyone performers and preachers and family came onstage, we got to see them and, heartbreakingly, hear them as well. "Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine," said Paris Michael Jackson, 11. "And I just wanted to say I love him so much." And then she fell into her aunt Janet's arms, leaving us to wonder, Was this what her father would have wanted? Had they finally escaped from isolation? Or had they, too, now been captured by a spotlight that, for him at least, became a prison all its own?