Dec. 07, 2000: My Childhood, My Sabbath, My Freedom...
What I wanted more than anything was to be ordinary. The Sabbath
was when I could be.
"Have you seen my childhood?
I'm searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne…"
Written and Composed by Michael Jackson
In one of our conversations together, my friend Rabbi Shmuley told
me that he had asked some of his colleagues - writers, thinkers,
and artists - to pen their reflections on the Sabbath. He then suggested
that I write down my own thoughts on the subject, a project I found
intriguing and timely due to the recent death of Rose Fine, a Jewish
woman who was my beloved childhood tutor and who traveled with me
and my brothers when we were all in the Jackson Five.
When people see the television appearances I made when I was a little
boy - 8 or 9 years old and just starting off my lifelong music career
- they see a little boy with a big smile. They assume that this
little boy is smiling because he is joyous, that he is singing his
heart out because he is happy, and that he is dancing with an energy
that never quits because he is carefree.
But while singing and dancing were, and undoubtedly remain, some
of my greatest joys, at that time what I wanted more than anything
else were the two things that make childhood the most wondrous years
of life, namely, playtime and a feeling of freedom. The public at
large has yet to really understand the pressures of childhood celebrity,
which, while exciting, always exacts a very heavy price.
More than anything, I wished to be a normal little boy. I wanted
to build tree houses and go to roller-skating parties. But very
early on, this became impossible. I had to accept that my childhood
would be different than most others. But that's what always made
me wonder what an ordinary childhood would be like.
There was one day a week, however, that I was able to escape the
stages of Hollywood and the crowds of the concert hall. That day
was the Sabbath. In all religions, the Sabbath is a day that allows
and requires the faithful to step away from the everyday and focus
on the exceptional. I learned something about the Jewish Sabbath
in particular early on from Rose, and my friend Shmuley further
clarified for me how, on the Jewish Sabbath, the everyday life tasks
of cooking dinner, grocery shopping, and mowing the lawn are forbidden
so that humanity may make the ordinary extraordinary and the natural
miraculous. Even things like shopping or turning on lights are forbidden.
On this day, the Sabbath, everyone in the world gets to stop being
But what I wanted more than anything was to be ordinary. So, in
my world, the Sabbath was the day I was able to step away from my
unique life and glimpse the everyday.
Sundays were my day for "Pioneering," the term used for the missionary
work that Jehovah's Witnesses do. We would spend the day in the
suburbs of Southern California, going door to door or making the
rounds of a shopping mall, distributing our Watchtower magazine.
I continued my pioneering work for years and years after my career
had been launched.
Up to 1991, the time of my Dangerous tour, I would don my disguise
of fat suit, wig, beard, and glasses and head off to live in the
land of everyday America, visiting shopping plazas and tract homes
in the suburbs. I loved to set foot in all those houses and catch
sight of the shag rugs and La-Z-Boy armchairs with kids playing
Monopoly and grandmas baby-sitting and all those wonderfully ordinary
and, to me, magical scenes of life. Many, I know, would argue that
these things seem like no big deal. But to me they were positively
The funny thing is, no adults ever suspected who this strange bearded
man was. But the children, with their extra intuition, knew right
away. Like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, I would find myself trailed
by eight or nine children by my second round of the shopping mall.
They would follow and whisper and giggle, but they wouldn't reveal
my secret to their parents. They were my little aides. Hey, maybe
you bought a magazine from me. Now you're wondering, right?
Sundays were sacred for two other reasons as I was growing up. They
were both the day that I attended church and the day that I spent
rehearsing my hardest. This may seem against the idea of "rest on
the Sabbath," but it was the most sacred way I could spend my time:
developing the talents that God gave me. The best way I can imagine
to show my thanks is to make the very most of the gift that God
Church was a treat in its own right. It was again a chance for me
to be "normal." The church elders treated me the same as they treated
everyone else. And they never became annoyed on the days that the
back of the church filled with reporters who had discovered my whereabouts.
They tried to welcome them in. After all, even reporters are the
children of God.
When I was young, my whole family attended church together in Indiana.
As we grew older, this became difficult, and my remarkable and truly
saintly mother would sometimes end up there on her own. When circumstances
made it increasingly complex for me to attend, I was comforted by
the belief that God exists in my heart, and in music and in beauty,
not only in a building. But I still miss the sense of community
that I felt there - I miss the friends and the people who treated
me like I was simply one of them. Simply human. Sharing a day with
When I became a father, my whole sense of God and the Sabbath was
redefined. When I look into the eyes of my son, Prince, and daughter,
Paris, I see miracles and I see beauty. Every single day becomes
the Sabbath. Having children allows me to enter this magical and
holy world every moment of every day. I see God through my children.
I speak to God through my children. I am humbled for the blessings
He has given me.
There have been times in my life when I, like everyone, has had
to wonder about God's existence. When Prince smiles, when Paris
giggles, I have no doubts. Children are God's gift to us. No - they
are more than that - they are the very form of God's energy and
creativity and love. He is to be found in their innocence, experienced
in their playfulness.
My most precious days as a child were those Sundays when I was able
to be free. That is what the Sabbath has always been for me. A day
of freedom. Now I find this freedom and magic every day in my role
as a father. The amazing thing is, we all have the ability to make
every day the precious day that is the Sabbath. And we do this by
rededicating ourselves to the wonders of childhood. We do this by
giving over our entire heart and mind to the little people we call
son and daughter. The time we spend with them is the Sabbath. The
place we spend it is called Paradise.
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is the most successful recording
artist of all time. With Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of several
best-selling books, including "Kosher Sex" and "Dating Secrets of
the Ten Commandments," and winner of the Times Preacher of the Year
2000, he is currently launching a child awareness and prioritization
campaign called Heal the Kids, of which Mr. Jackson is founder and
chairman. The pair are also working on a book about what parents
and adults can learn from children and how men and women may recapture
lost, yet virtuous, childlike qualities.