A. I watched Whitney Houston’s funeral.
B. I learned of the death of Danielle Thurston.
Houston’s funeral is being broadcast everywhere. News channels, entertainment channels, the Internet. Predictably, it’s a Who’s Who of famous people, from Clive Davis and TD Jakes to Stevie Wonder and Kevin Costner. The church is packed, the outfits are expensive, the message is that God has a plan for Whitney, and that—as we speak—she’s with him, singing atop a cloud.
Danielle Thurston and I attended Mahopac High School together (Her last name was Ramundo). We were both born in 1972, both survivors of the mean streets. Danielle went on to Westchester Community College, then worked as an estimator at State Farm. In recent years she lived in Clinton Corners, N.Y. with her husband John, and their two sons. Her life ended after a three-year battle with cancer.
I wasn’t close with Danielle, but I do know this. She didn’t sing as well as Whitney Houston. Probably didn’t dance as well, either. She couldn’t hit a baseball as hard as Gary Carter once did; didn’t develop the iPod, a la Steve Jobs. She lacked Etta James’ resume. Her life, however, was no less valuable or noteworthy or momentus. We, as a culture, gravitate toward fame, and bolster it with undeserved meaning and importance. We tend to forget that, come day’s end, it is a flawed measure; that it’s the so-called “little people”—we of the anonymous sect who make small differences (without drawing attention to ourselves) in our families and our communities—who allow the world continue to spin. By all accounts, Danielle was a magnificent mother and wife; a friend you’d want to have; a person of character and compassion. I would take those qualities over a No. 1 album or Gold Glove any day of the week.
One of Danielle’s friends, Angela Amato, wrote something on her Facebook wall that, I believe, speaks volumes: “My mom said it best in her post; to Danielle cancer was not a death sentence, for her it was a life sentence—she didn’t let the cancer control her, she remained in control the entire time. In the three years since her diagnosis she has beaten odds; created memories with her children; showed all of us the real meaning of courage and fight; she inspired people who never met her and gave a whole new meaning to the word strong. A good friend told me God would not let us suffer more than we can handle. Danielle was tougher than nails and to me she didn’t lose her battle with cancer—God simply wouldn’t let her suffer her any longer. She won and for that I am very proud of her.”