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I was afraid of Thriller. Yes that one. I was born in 1980, and my parents were then and are now liberal activists/religious conservatives. That meant I pretty much got to see EVERYTHING that I wanted to, I would just get a lecture beforehand on how they disapproved and why- (sometimes after the viewing I would get a second lecture-as a refresher. This happened when I saw Fatal Attraction in the movie theatre at 7. That’s a story for later) this system worked well for the most part. I wouldn’t let on if something devastated me, like Thriller did. I want to say I was 6 when we all sat down in the den on the couch as a family to watch the brilliant but bizarre mind of Michael Jackson play out on screen. My mother, father, brother who is eight years older than me, and little Billy watched the scene unfold. The video started out well, but once they started walking past the graveyard, even my neophyte brian knew nothing good could come of it. I instantly covered my face even as my body along moved to the seductive beats. There was an excitement, but a terrifying realness to the horror. Six year olds believe with a capital B. I thought it was safe midway through and opened my fingers to see the gaunt zombie, skeleton Michael Jackson slowly inching toward the camera with his fiendish ghoul friends towards the cowering screaming girl at the end of the video. Lord Jesus why did I do that… The man who I loved in The Wiz as the scarecrow just ruined me for life. From that point on, even as a young adult, I couldn’t really stand to hear the song. It instantly brought me back to that physical terror in my body, the stiffening of my limbs, the ghastly horrific face of MJ, and his zombie/demon friends slowly cornering me in a dark haunted house to kill me. Or maybe worse, turn me into one of them, separating me from my family and love forever.
**************Like I said, six year olds believe, and believe hard. Their imaginations go to the moon and beyond, and that includes dark places*******************************
The fact Thriller scared me was something I kept to myself for the most part until I foolishly told my college friends and then they commenced to soft hazing for four years. Every chance my roommates got, they would make me encounter it. Change the tv channel to MTV during Halloween so I would see it, play it in their rooms so I would hear it, once even a college dance teacher, (at their prompting I am sure) played it as we had across the floor turn combinations. It was endless. Thriller was now everywhere I went, popping up all over, when I least expected it. My body reacted, heart rate increase, sweating, heavy breathing etc. There was only one thing I could do, and that was to meet Michael Jackson and his zombies face to face. Well, screen to face so to speak. I pulled the video up in iTunes, and bought it. I employed my own sort of therapy. I watched that damn video over, and over, and over again. It filled my days and nights. Wherever I went, if I had a spare minute, I watched it. It had a beautiful affect on me.
I grew to understand the magic of the video. I could appreciate the Bob Fosse inspired choreography. I could groove to the beats, and though I still found the video grotesque, and horrific- I could stand it. It no longer haunted me because I had danced with the demons. They were familiar, I now knew them. The truth that is golden is that you cannot be afraid of what you know.
I am reading up on Buddhism, and one of the great stories is how when greeted by the shadow side of human nature named Mara, Siddhartha doesn’t run, or hide, or avoid the demon. He invites Mara to sit down for tea. Hearing the shadow side out, wrestling with it, encountering it and welcoming the tension- is the only way toward victory of enlightenment or overcoming the adversary.
This occurs in the Christian tradition as well. When Satan comes to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus does not immediately dismiss the deceiver. He has a conversation, and permits Satan to have his say. In other words, Jesus hears Satan out. It is only after hearing all the Devil has to say and turning his many offers down, that Jesus sends Satan on his way. Encountering fear and sitting with it, reflecting on the lessons fear is trying to teach you, is a lesson I learn over and over again. The greatest blessings I have had from the universe, professionally and personally have always come when I jumped into the fear directly and met it head on. I moved to NewYork City without a job, or a lead on a job and within weeks, booked a national tour of a musical. Upon getting back to the city, I was unemployed again, scared of what my next move was going to be, went to a free Audra McDonald concert in Central Park to get my mind off my unsuccessful job search, and the fear of homelessness, and ended up standing behind what turned out to be my next job lead. I faced my fear of striking up conversations with strangers, and asked her how,her day was. That conversation ended up being hours due to the length of the line, and the concert ended up getting rained out. However I left that conversation with an email address, which led to an amazing white collar temp gig.
Recently I have been met with death threats, racial and homophobic slurs on social media over my thoughts. Running from these via blocking the people attacking me only egged them on and increased the frequency of the cyber bullying. It was only when I started encountering them by replying, that they fell away.
Now there is a caveat. Sitting with Mara is not easy. In fact it is scary as hell. I’m not going to lie and say looking at Thriller is now my favorite thing to do, but I can deal and I can appreciate the craftsmanship. I can make it through. Surviving is the victory sometimes.
Whenever we are afraid we need to take note, and figure out a way to sit with that fear. Instead of instantly avoiding it, pause and use the fear to your advantage. Have some tea with Mara, and come away enlightened.