I read about Chester Bennington on my way to meet a friend – Andy Othling – for a beer this afternoon.
I specifically remember playing a show with Andy and Alex Sugg in Baltimore three years ago where, along with my wife, the four of us ended the night blasting Linkin Park's In The End in the parking lot of the apartment complex where our hosts lived, and talking about the impact Chester's band had on the four of us, growing up fans of Hybrid Theory and Meteora.
The first thing Andy asked me today was whether I'd read the news. I said yes and went to the bathroom to avoid breaking down.
When I got home, Brandi asked me if I was okay, and I couldn't curb the tears any longer.
When I was in middle school, I remember sitting in my parent's car, obsessed with memorizing LP's song, Runaway. I had to hide my fascination from my folks, because they had some pretty conservative standards regarding "secular music" at the time, and I wasn't allowed to listen to the record after it dropped. But I remember one day – another "parking lot" day – in Tijeras, New Mexico, rewinding that song over and over again, trying to lock in the tempo, layering my own pubescent cadence over Chester's, somehow empathizing with his lyrics:
I wanna run away, never say goodbye. I wanna know the truth, instead of wondering why. I wanna know the answers, no more lies. I wanna shut the door, and open up my mind.
I loved the pictures that "paper bags and angry voices under a sky of dust" evoked in my mind. I would write lyrics to the same inflection, invoking imageries synonymous with what I took from that song, and garnering as much inspiration as a person could from what became a defining record for my youth.
The words fester like acid today, or a ton of bricks.
Hybrid Theory – alongside P.O.D.'s The Fundamental Elements of Southtown – was a record that changed my life. I'd sneak out of my parent's house to walk unpaved, midnight streets to words so resonant with wherever I felt like I was at the time, kicking up a sky of dust to the tempo that One Step Closer made for me when my own trajectory felt so southbound.
I read CNNs article on Chester's death in relation to mental health tonight. Sometimes I feel like we transition too quickly to curriculum from moments that need to be sat in before we start prescribing future alternatives, but I will say this – they're not wrong in their diagnosis of the way artists have tendencies to develop cycles of pain to keep their creativity alive (or the ways that fans tend to denounce "the new stuff" that wasn't quite as good what it used to be).
And "The Old Stuff" is an unforgiving Law that most artists already feel like they can't live up to well before their fan base affirms their fear. The invitation to return to the darkness – to find new ways to relive the trauma – is always there, and it pays.
I am tired of romanticizing the pain – as tired as I am of minimizing it in light of "the glory that awaits" or the "the better place." And I have not forfeited belief that there is hope in the midst of tragedy - even beyond the grave - but lets not beautify it for sake of answers that are often lent far too quickly and flippantly as a means of escape from the questions that come in the wake of loss, however well intended.
There are six children who woke up fatherless today.
There is a wife without a husband.
Family without a son, a brother.
Time may scar wounds but the pigment there will always be a reminder of what happened, and what never happened.
Healing is a lifelong process and I'm not sure the sutures never pull the skin tight enough to stop the bleeding.
I had the thought, today, that I've never cried over a "celebrity" death before. A true enough statement, but a foolhardy adjective for the loss of a human, as if it somehow constitutes a different sort of response to the weight of such tragedy. Like there is somehow less grounding for weeping over the absence of one man as opposed to another.
And death, however normal, will never be normal.
The night before last, I spent some time with a group of students who, somehow, got to talking about suicide. They're young. Sixth grade. Eighth grade. One of them noted his father's disposition: "Only cowards commit suicide."
In moments like that, you can't punish a child who doesn't understand the world with responses like,
"well, let me tell you just how much of a coward my father was..."
but I'd be lying to say that kind of libel doesn't boil at my stomach.
Can we move beyond perpetuating that slander? Perhaps it's not fair to retaliate against proponents of such abhorrent claims when seems clear that ignorance drives them, but a conversation with a human being, or an honest look in the mirror, might do you well.
There is a whole world inside of the mind of each and every one of us, and none of us quite understands the other, and this place is full of enough confusion as it is without adding flames to one another's fires, or releasing wasps atop the entropy and groaning this earth already sounds beneath our feet.
I pray for Chester's family. For peace, and for tears exhausting enough as to bring the peace of sleep. That friends and family might be reconciled through the forced hand that loss is, bringing people together, like a satellite view of the differences that separate us – minuscule in comparison to the love that could be if we didn't treat the roads between us like walls. I pray against trite condolences, and I pray against the anger that will arise when they are given. I pray against pithy explanations, and I pray against the despair that they fuel. I pray for love and kindness and compassion and long-suffering and the space to simply be in the midst of all that is broken.
We don't have to be anywhere other than where we are. Indeed, how could we be?
And at the same time, there are others who are in other places, hands and arms intertwined and bracing to catch all of your weight like a trust fall, where it's okay to let them carry you if your legs won't hold up on their own.
Please don't go.
A friend of mine – Chad Moses – said today that people should consider refining their vocabulary when it comes to suicide as "death by" rather than "committed." So, I've been considering it. Sometimes, perhaps, death does not feel like so much of a choice as a given. Perhaps that isn't true, objectively, but I've watched the truth become a convoluted thing inside of the mind of a father whose "death by" became an inevitability.
I have thought about and talked about and written about and prayed about and contemplated this kind of loss for a lot of years now. That doesn't mean I'm worth listening to, but I have some experience, and some experience – in this case – is no small thing. I am not willing to chalk death by suicide up to selfishness, or cowardice, or – maybe, even – abandonment. Not entirely, anyway. To do so is reductionistic and lazy. As the saying goes, "simple answers delude us."
I spent much of today reading public cries of agreement about the ways that Linkin Park got millions of people through their dark nights. Moments so close to the same edge that Chester broke on that the only thing saving them were his words, enveloping them like a warm embrace, grip tightening with empathy and something to the degree of, "it's okay, I know what this is like."
Presence is greater than answers and he lives and moves however he pleases, and through whomever he pleases.
Chester's words were grace to people like me.
I wish he could have known. Sometimes the whole world is screaming your name, and you just can't hear it. Sometimes it's all you hear, and it's too much to take.
There will be no speculation from me as to the whys.
What ifs are deafening questions.
I simply wanted to participate in the global "thank you" – and in weeping with those who weep. My prayers are with the family and friends of a man whose impact will never be lost on those of us who have had the pleasure of experiencing it. My body groans. My heart breaks.
Finally, because of the nature of my own story, and the stories of people I know or have met throughout the years who find themselves standing face to face with death – shaking her hips or wiggling her finger like she has something better to offer than the love that is available to you here and now – I beg of you:
Please don't go.
You are incalculably valuable, you are worthy of love – you are worth all our while – and we need you. None of us exists within a vacuum. No matter how lonely it may feel in that mind, you are not floating alone in there. The world is not better off without you, and you are not better off without it. And if these words seem empty, well that makes sense to me because sometimes I can't hear them either, but they need to be spoken nonetheless, and I pray for love and friends and miracles to root them deep within your heart.
There is help and there is hope. Let it find you kicking and screaming if you have to, but please don't go. To be in need is to human – it is not to be weak – and to hell with the voices that tell you otherwise.
"May we be a salve for one another."
Chester, Linkin Park, thank you for being a salve for me.
P.S. – I'd like to pay forward a few words from my friend Jamie Tworkowski, who wrote an article on Chester for Alternative Press yesterday.
"If life feels nearly impossible, please know you’re not alone. Please know that it’s okay to be honest. You don’t have to fake it. You don’t have to play it cool. If you need help, please know you’re worth whatever help you need...
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, Crisis Text Line is a great place to start. Simply send a text to 741-741. A trained crisis counselor will respond, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Like Crisis Text Line, these folks are available 24/7.
For additional resources, including licensed mental health counselors, please visit TWLOHA's website... we’re all in this together."
Click here to read Jamie's full response at Alternative Press.
P.P.S. – You matter. Thank you.
[Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images]