Earlier this week Twitter, and subsequent social networks, lit up with the news that Chester Bennington, frontman of the iconic band Linkin Park, had committed suicide. Normally I don’t pay too much attention to the passing of celebrities. Normally, I look a bit derisively at the personal sadness that some people feel when someone they’ve never known, or interacted with in any fashion, passes.
Today, however, I experienced that thing, to some degree, which I otherwise wouldn’t understand others expressing. Today’s news affected me on some level. Chester’s death was almost personal in a way, despite my only connection to Linkin Park being through their music.
I’ve been listening to Linkin Park since I was in middle school. Hybrid Theory was the first album I bought with the money from my newspaper route. My dad had to take me to Best Buy to pick it up and, after a close inspection to make sure there wasn’t a “Parental Advisory” sticker on it, he ok’d the purchase. That album became a definitive one in my ever-growing c.d. collection. I loved every song on it, which is something you can’t actually say about most new albums these days. Last summer, my wife secured us tickets to go and see Linkin Park at Summerfest in Milwaukee…it was a fantastic show. I can honestly say that this band and their music has been with me through some of the most volatile times of my life. Growing up can be tough, but music can be that relatable force which gives you the strength to carry on through the tough times.
In the wake of events like these the conversation inevitably shifts to a conversation about what we missed along the way. Everyone somehow tied directly or indirectly to the event always grasps for the “Why??” a question which sometimes is answered but, more often than not, is left to speculation.
When I was 20 years old I made a decision that nearly left those I love most dearly asking these same sorts of questions. I couldn’t see past the moments of pain of my current situation, I couldn’t fight my way through the mental fog that had clouded my mind and it just seemed so much easier to let go, rather than to continue to fight. I went to the hospital for three days and received the help I needed and life went on. I look back on that moment of weakness in my life and find myself in a profound state of gratitude that I didn’t find that escape I was looking for. I look at my beautiful wife and daughters and am overwhelmed at the vibrance they bring to my life. Please don’t misunderstand me when I say this, simply finding purpose doesn’t void your life of pain, in fact, it has the potential to amplify the pain you feel when you find something or someone who completes you. Life can be simultaneously heaven and hell when you find your purpose and place in the world.
But I look back at the place I was at, when I was 20 and immature and thought my world was ending, and I can’t believe just how much I could’ve missed out on. These reflections help me to find perspective in those moments of mental confusion, they help me realize that I’ve been down the dark path of the past and that I’ve come out on the other side and found my purpose in the process.
I don’t know what motivated Chester to act in the way he did. I don’t know what was going on in his mind in that moment of hopelessness, but I do know what he’s left behind. I’ve seen it before. Finding his escape left behind loved ones who are broken and suffering, asking themselves what they missed and, in some cases, blaming themselves for their loss. He left behind a legacy tainted by tragedy, a career of writing music that has, in some cases, saved lives and inspired hope in individuals who were just like Chester and, instead, chose not to act. He left behind six children of various ages.
Suicide is ultimately a selfish decision. I learned this when I had to face the people I would’ve potentially hurt by choosing to leave. It is a decision to withdraw. It’s the decision, sometimes enhanced by mental factors or external elements, to render a verdict in your own case with no testimony from others, or evidence to the contrary, because no one could possibly know the depths of suffering you personally face (even though this thinking is far from reality).
Much of the focus, in the wake of tragedies like these, is to only say nice things about the person who’s left the picture. I think it’s a way for humans to cope with loss, but I truly feel that it does a disservice to the greater conversation about suicide and its prevention. I don’t say that as someone who’s never dealt with it, but someone with firsthand experience in the subject. I feel that the truth ought to be told in these situations and the truth is this: Chester was a talented individual who had a promising career and a massive platform to affect positive change in the world. He had a wife and children. He was an individual who was clearly dealing with some kind of pain that he clearly felt was beyond any sort of help. He was an individual who chose to take the incredible promise he was endowed with and wipe it all away in one conscious act of selfishness. That is the truth of the matter.
The hypocrisy of his action is embodied in these words he penned, off Linkin Park’s new album “One More Light”:
“Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do…”
Care for yourself. Your light is all you have, and it only burns bright for a short moment in this life so let it illuminate a better way for as many people as possible.
My past encounter with this subject is a point of shame for me, to know that I almost chose this selfish solution that could’ve affected so many people around me. Whenever I find myself in that place of guilt, I remind myself to look at my wife, daughters, family and friends and find gratitude. I use those moments as fuel to steel my personal reserve never to find myself in that place ever again, for their sake. I also take those moments to remind myself that, even when I’ve lost the strength to fight for myself, I know there are others who will fight for me when I’ve given up.
I wish Chester had remembered this in that moment. I wish he would’ve chosen differently, rather than to become another personality in a growing parade of passing icons.