Lady Gaga is an easy target these days. In a culture that loves to build people up and then tear them down, after so much early success she has a big target on her back. Our society also likes to generalize about people, usually in a negative fashion, because that is easier than actually getting to know someone and being fair-minded.
People I meet in my daily interactions often trivialize Lady Gaga as the kook who wore the meat dress and emerged from an egg at one of her appearances. Yet even more unfair are the music critics who complain that her constant drumbeat of a message about love and acceptance is mere pabulum—simplistic advice that she doesn’t really believe in and which has no real value.
Well, her message could have had enormous value to me and my family. My beautiful brother, Danny, might still be with us had he, I, and my family heard and adopted Lady Gaga’s message many years ago.
Lady Gaga tells us that we must all love and accept ourselves and others regardless of, and in celebration of, our differences, quirks, and faults. She preaches that we are all beautiful in our own way. She admonishes her fans to not leave one of her shows wanting to be more like her, but rather wanting to be more like the best possible version of themselves. She practices what she preaches, in that she knows she is different from other people, and rather than being ashamed of and hiding her quirks, she celebrates them. Lady Gaga has always had a tremendous desire to be unique, and she expresses that with her hair, clothing, and music. If she feels like wearing a meat dress and singing about oral sex, then she fearlessly does just that.
She also urges us to love and accept others as they are. Once we grant ourselves self-acceptance, this is the logical next step. Ironically, this is the opposite of what her critics do to her. They generalize, pigeon-hole, and cast aspersions, because that is easier, even though it’s inaccurate and wrong.
This brings me to the story of my brother, Danny. He was a wonderful, beautiful, sweet person, who is gone. We in our family always knew Danny was different, but we were never quite sure how or why. None of us ever took the time to really get to know him as an adult. He was the eldest child of four children. My Dad, for all his other virtues, unfortunately told Danny once that he was like the first batch of cookies, which were usually burned and needed to be discarded. Danny eventually moved to California and we didn’t see or hear from him very often. We never really accepted him, and I suspect he never completely accepted himself.
Then we received the horrible, tragic news: Danny had jumped off the roof of a hotel, plunging to his death.
We learned after his death that Danny had been gay. None of us were aware of that. I’m sure much of the reason he never told us was because he had observed how intolerant our family was, about gays, African-Americans, the handicapped—basically anyone who was different from us.
Had we been more loving and accepting of others, and taught Danny to be more accepting of himself, would Danny have been willing to share some of his emotional struggles with us? And would he then still be with us? I think he would. So shame on us.
And thank you, Lady Gaga, for having the wisdom and courage to continue to spread your critically important message of love, tolerance, and acceptance.
I miss Danny horribly. It just breaks my heart to think he was in so much mental anguish that he felt he couldn’t carry on any longer and chose to end his life. I would give anything to spend just one more hour with my lovely, wonderful brother. He was the kindest and most generous person I have ever met. And he was a brilliant man. Danny won the Undergraduate Finance Award in college, scored in the top 2% of the nation on the law school entrance exam, and earned both a law degree and a master of laws degree. He had begun a distinguished career as a law school professor. Danny was also a nationally recognized chess player, having been awarded the “Master” level honor, the only higher award being “Grandmaster.”
I want to share with you a brief story about Danny in honor of his life. I think it captures his essence.
One time Danny came back to Chicago to visit me, my wife, and our two children in the middle of winter. He happened to arrive at our house well before any of us were yet home from work or school. There was a lot of snow on the ground, so he decided to grab one of our shovels and build a slide out of snow in our back yard for our kids to play on. He spent hours working on it and it was massive! He also went to the store and bought two plastic sleds for the kids to use on the slide. When Jenny and Chris got home, they were overjoyed with their new winter playground! He played with them for hours as they went up and down the slide, all the while helping them along and laughing.
That was my beautiful brother Danny, in all of his glorious uniqueness.
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