“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
This was true of Aaron Carter last night, but few people were kind.
Aaron tweeted about struggling with his weight, about dealing with anxiety. And then the internet went wild when he “compared himself to Michael Jackson.” Aaron was an easy target, his words misunderstood.
We forget that famous people are real people with real problems and real feelings. We forget that the things we say online can have real consequences. And why is it that we love to watch someone fall?
i had an unusual perspective last night, and i don’t mean because i work in Mental Health. i mean that as Aaron tweeted from Seat 15F on that Delta flight from Orlando to LA, i was about five feet away, seated in 13C.
i first noticed him as we boarded the flight, a young man on the phone and clearly having a hard time. i didn’t recognize him at first and then it crossed my mind, “i think that’s Aaron Carter.” i googled him and sure enough, the photos matched the guy two rows behind me. i looked at his Twitter and it was clear that the hard time was not confined to one phone call. His Twitter was a sea of confessions and explanations and trying to defend himself from people being mean.
I tweeted to him, “i’m on your flight, in Row 13 if you need someone to talk to. Peace to You.”
He didn’t respond. i watched as the tweets continued. i kept looking back to see a young guy staring at his phone, typing constantly. And in that moment, i recognized him. Because i’ve been there and maybe you’ve been there as well. Not with half a million followers and not with our tweets making headlines. But i know that feeling of fighting to explain and to defend, using words in hoping to be known, but then it all goes quickly south.
i knew he couldn’t win. His words were only fueling the fire, only giving the haters more material. The whole thing made me sad. i pulled a notebook and a Sharpie from my backpack and i wrote a note: “I’m sorry for the hate on Twitter. People love to hate. I’m here if you want to talk.” i stood up, took three steps in his direction and handed him the piece of paper. He thanked me. A few minutes later, he tapped me on the shoulder and we walked to the back of the plane.
We talked for about 10 minutes. We got cut short by the flight attendants who seemed excited to be talking to a famous person. We didn’t get to trade info. i didn’t make an epic speech. i’m not the hero in this story.
By the time we landed, Aaron’s tweets had made their way to Cosmo and E! and Perez Hilton. People were using words like “meltdown” and “rant.” My own friends, people i follow and respect, were adding to the noise.
There’s something i wanted to say to Aaron last night, but i didn’t get the chance. i would like to share it here:
“You don’t have to convince anyone. Your value is not based on performance. You deserve love. You deserve friends. You’re enough.”
People found his Michael Jackson tweet hilarious. Aaron said that Michael had once passed the torch to him. People took it as if the words were Aaron’s, but really, he was sharing a story from his youth. As a young superstar, Aaron got to know Michael Jackson and Michael had told him he was next.
Michael Jackson is perhaps the most legendary singer of all-time, in a league of his own. Aaron’s career peaked when he was a teenager. He has not released new music in 10 years. People were quick and mean in pointing out the space between the two performers.
The MJ story stayed with me. i wondered why he chose to share it, what might be at the heart of it. i didn’t get to ask him so this is only my opinion but it feels worth sharing. i wonder if that story, the one that made headlines from the 15th row of a cross-country flight last night, the one so many people twisted and used against Aaron, i wonder if there’s another way to say it.
Here’s what i think Aaron Carter tried to communicate last night: “Someone great believed in me once. It felt really good. It meant a lot to me. My story isn’t over. My career isn’t over. I’m still alive and I remember Michael’s words because there’s hope inside those words. And in a difficult moment, hope is no small thing.”
Aaron Carter is a real person. He may not be “the next Michael Jackson” but that isn’t the point. He is a brother and a son, a person who no doubt has lived a very unique life, amazing in ways but challenging as well. And at 27, i hope he’s early in his story. This website exists to say that every person matters, every life and every story. Aaron Carter is included.
So to the guy in 15F,
i’m sorry for the hate. Please know you’re not alone. You don’t owe the haters anything. Whether you go on to release the greatest album of all-time or never write another song, you matter infinitely. Your life is priceless. You deserve love. Not for any performance or success but simply because you’re alive. If you need someone to talk to, i’m in Row 13.
Peace to You.