I won’t pretend that I was a big fan of Whitney Houston. I didn’t dislike her. I admired her incredible voice and that spark she had in her youth. It’s been tragic watching such a gifted woman take a long, painful slide to the bottom. She died way too young and I can’t help wishing that somebody, somewhere had been able to help her help herself. Because other people do not make you sober. That’s something that has to come from within.

Still, I shed tears for her this morning. It wasn’t the rehash of the Grammy tribute, her powerful version of I Will Always Love You, or any of her other hits. It was, of all things, hearing her sing the Star-Spangled Banner. That moment was such a triumph for her, coming at a time right after 911 when America was on the ground, desperately looking for a way to get back up and move forward. Whitney Houston’s simple but amazing rendition of the national anthem somehow encapsulated America’s yearning for a reason to keep going. She was truly and utterly ours in that moment, and she gave us the gift of hope and pride that helped us find our own way towards recovery.

But there was, apparently, no one who could give her the same gift. Maybe they tried, and she just couldn’t translate that help into something that worked for her. Even if it turns out that drugs and alcohol played no part in her death, they still had a hold on her, making her a mockery of her former glorious self. She hit the ground hard and never really got up, though she struggled on and off to get her feet back under her. For whatever reason, her inner demons were stronger than her wonderful gifts.