Occasionally when boredom strikes in endless supermarket queues, I cast my eye over the frozen smiles on magazines covers. Sometimes candid shots show celebrities with no makeup, or as waiflike figures going through a relationship break-up or a fall from grace on drugs. Often the headlines are enough to leave me disquieted and disturbed; a definite deterrent to reading more.
However a month ago I came across a reference to Jade Goody on an internet news site criticising her for selling the story of her fight with cervical cancer. A photo of her big smile and bald head sparked my curiosity and I went in search of more information.
I learned how she had been pilloried in the press for her lack of general knowledge and ‘racist’ comments on a reality TV show. However it came across to me as an outcry of jealousy locked within an indignant statement: How dare an ‘ignorant’ person from a working class background rise out of the poverty of her past to fame. To make matters worse, the guts and flair she showed by starting her own businesses using money she earned from the reality show, also thrust into people’s faces the lie: You can’t get anywhere in life without an education.
While journalists had a field day poking cruelly at Jade’s lack of education, they forgot that her ‘ignorance’ had nothing on George W. Bush’s gaffes and invented words when he groped for words to say – despite his privileged upbringing and education. However, the ultimate difference between them was that Bush accepted the family script that sons should compete, win and become leaders, ultimately leading America into a costly war and a loss of respect worldwide for his country, while Jade Goody tore up her family script and emerged into the limelight from poverty and limited knowledge to embrace the world with a big heart.
Independent journalist, Johann Hari, who dares to look beneath the surface and report what he sees, perhaps summed up the greatest gift bequeathed to us all by Jade Goody:
“In her short life, Jade showed how as Britain has spiralled into one of the most unequal and immobile societies on earth, we have begun to openly jeer and sneer at the people trapped at the bottom. We gleefully seized on her as “proof” that the people rotting on abandoned estates were not there because of the grim accident of birth, but because they were stupid and ugly and bigoted. And all we proved – with unwitting irony – was our own stupidity and ugliness and bigotry.”
Hari pointed out that Jade’s lack of knowledge was due to the fact that from the age of five, she often stayed home from school to cook and clean and iron for her drug addicted and seriously disabled mother. To make matters worse, Jade’s father was a heroin addict who finally died of an overdose.
This makes a child a parent to her parents. And this is what probably gave Jade her big heart, a big smile and a noisy and hearty laugh – attributes desperately needed to shed off the cares and woes of such a difficult start to life. She was transparent and real. She challenged us all to rise out of the slums of our own negativity and fear of taking risks to embrace life to the full. Which is what she did until the end.
Jade’s passing is a timely lesson about judgment. Long ago I remember reading the advice of American Indians: Before we judge we should learn to “walk in another man’s moccasins.” It is an interesting irony indeed that judgments often reveal more about the person judging than the person being judged. Judgments also show an unwillingness to look beneath the surface of appearances to understand; the payoff being a pious righteousness that causes rigidity and hardness of character – often reflected in the face as tightly pursed lips. Worse, judgment is a robber of the softness of character and peace of mind developed by embracing the more humane qualities of understanding, empathy and compassion.
Yesterday Jade was given a celebrity-style funeral befitting a person who saw opportunities and took risks to rise out of the slums of her childhood experience. She was a modern-day Cinderella who became a princess by embracing her own ‘prince charming’: her gutsiness.
First published in Scoop on April 11, 2009
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