A Matter of Life and Death (What Chester Bennington of Linkin Park’s Suicide Tells Us About the Meaning of Life)
THE DEATH OF A LEGEND
On July 20th, 2017, the musical world lost a legend in Linkin Park lead singer, Chester Bennington, when he committed suicide via hanging in his home, a shocking and entirely unexpected turn of events that left millions upon millions of Chester’s adoring fans heartbroken, including me.
I was a junior in high school when Linkin Park’s debut album, Hybrid Theory (a true rap-metal classic and probably the greatest album of its kind to have ever been produced), was released, and I can remember it like it were yesterday, the day my twin brother played me some songs from it. It was love at first listen; there was no doubt about it.
Despite me being a middle-class white kid from a small city in the middle of Wisconsin, I’d lived hip-hop and rap music since before I hit puberty, and I can remember, also as if it were yesterday, the day my favorite rapper of all-time, Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, was gunned down and killed in a drive-by shooting, the day after my 14th birthday.
I loved Biggie, and I cried that day, because I knew that not only would I personally miss him, his music, and his over-sized personality. Not surprisingly, I found myself crying again the day Chester Bennington died, for very much the same reasons, as well as because, as in Biggie’s situation, the world had lost a musical legend that could never be replaced.
I still, to this day, wonder how much better hip-hop would be if Biggie were still here. And now I’m going to be left to wonder the same thing about Chester ten, twenty years from now, with regards to rock and rap-metal (which has, for most part, ceases to exist as its own discernible genre since approximately 2003), which has influenced me, I would say, at least as much as hip-hop has.
While Biggie’s death hurt a lot for me, I would say that Chester’s was worse, specifically because of how it happened. Whereas Biggie died at the hands of an as-yet-unidentified assailant who will most likely never be held responsible for his terrible crime, Chester chose to willingly end his own life after battling depression for most of his conscious life. Unfortunately, it appears that regardless of how many people loved Chester and his songs and felt as though they knew him personally because of them, it wasn’t enough to give Chester, a man who, through his own performances and that of his band, undoubtedly influenced me and my own musical style (as Cory Crush, formerly Arkane) like no one else ever has or ever will, a reason to live.
And that’s what I’m here to talk about with you today: Reasons to live, or, in other words, the so-called meaning of life; as in, what it is and/or whether it exists at all, and assuming it does, what, if any, role it can or does play in determine whether people like Chester ultimately choose to live or die.
THE MEANING OF LIFE
Several years ago, I had an epiphany, which was that there is no inherent meaning in anything, and that the only meaning anything has in this world is the meaning we assign to it. Concurrently, I concluded that most people (if not all people) who commit suicide due it for one big, primary reason, which is that they have failed to assign (or, as most would probably put it, “find”) meaning to anything in their life.
Now, one might look at a wildly successful rockstar like Chester and say, “How he could possibly not find meaning in his life, when he was constantly surrounded by adoring fans singing his lyrics alongside him (or even for him) at his concerts, selling out arenas, making millions of dollars from hit album after hit album, and, in general, living the American dream, complete with a beautiful wife and six children, not to mention a dream house to come home to when he wasn’t in the studio or on the road?”
To this, I would respond, as a man who, like Chester, has suffered from alcoholism (which I’ve fortunately recovered completely from, thanks to the Grace of God and his plan for far better things for me), been through a nasty divorce, and spent countless hours writing and performing songs that laid bare my own bouts with depression and heartbreak for the world to see, that no amount of fame, fortune, or fans can cure the type of sadness that Chester undoubtedly felt in the days leading up to his suicide. The only cure, in my experience, and as per my above-mentioned epiphany, is the assignment of meaning to something, anything in one’s life.
Unfortunately, for me, his band mates, his family and friends, the entire musical community, and most of all, Chester himself, Chester simply couldn’t bring himself to assign enough meaning to anything or anyone to make himself feel as though life was worth living. He couldn’t “find” enough meaning in his wife, his children, his music, or the difference he’d been making through it, not to mention he and his band mates philanthropic endeavors over the last decade, to give himself a reason to stay, and so he didn’t. And it breaks my heart, because it didn’t have to be that way.
Perhaps Chester didn’t know that he was responsible for assigning his own meaning to the world around him. Perhaps he, like most people, believed he was a victim of circumstance, and rather than believe that he was in control of what happened to him, he believed (quite mistakenly, I must say) that he was at the mercy of other people, places, and things–such as recording sessions, band practices, photo shoots, interviews, and never-ending tour dates that would push and pull on him constantly, seemingly preventing him from living what he may have deemed a “normal life” (as in, with none of the trappings of the so-called “rockstar lifestyle”, such as the endless stream of the alcohol he’d struggled with an addiction to for as long as he could remember, and which he immortalized through his lyrics to the song “Crawling”).
WHAT I’D TELL CHESTER (AND ANYONE SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION), IF I COULD
Oh, how I wish I could just pick up a phone and call Chester, so I could tell him that he wasn’t the mercy of anyone or anything; that he could, at any time he liked, “drop everything”, as they say, take a huge step back, so he could see his life from a third-party perspective, identify what he did or didn’t like about it, and then work to re-prioritize everything in it, making sure to devote his time to the things he felt truly mattered to him, and not what other people or society, as a whole, told him he could focus on.
If I could have, I’d have told Chester that he can’t sit idly by, waiting for things to make sense; for things to matter; for some White Knight to come riding into his darkness on a white steed of pure, white light to tell him what the truth was, because the truth about truth is that it is entirely subjective. In other words, it’s whatever we say (or, more specifically, believe) it is, and the same goes for what matters, in general; for what does or doesn’t have meaning for us.
If I could have, I’d have also told Chester what Jesus said, which was that if we live by the sword, we die by the sword, which is another way of saying another thing Jesus that said quite often to anyone with ears to hear, which was that we reap what we sow. In other words, and in accordance with the Universal Law known as the Law of Cause and Effect, which is force behind the concept of “karma” and holds that for every cause (or action) there is a corresponding effect (or result), and vice versa, one cannot write about and sing about things such as alcoholism, depression, and suicidal thoughts or death without attracting such things, in some way or another, into one’s life. And then I’d have told Chester that perhaps he should consider retiring from music to get away from such thoughts, so he could focus on more positive things instead.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to trivialize depression, as a former sufferer of it myself, nor am I trying to insinuate that one can overcome such a pervasive, debilitating, and contagious mental illness by simply “thinking positive thoughts”, but what I am trying to do is get across to you, and especially anyone who feels or has ever felt as lost, hopeless, or meaningless as Chester did, that we cannot overcome this terrible disease by spending nearly every waking hour of our lives focusing intently on the very feelings and the very things that make us feel depressed or by hiding behind false pleasantries and fake smiles that lead others to believe we’re doing just fine, when we are doing anything but.
ANYTHING CAN MEAN SOMETHING, IF WE WANT IT TO
If we want to beat depression, the only solution is to, as I said earlier, assign meaning to something, anything in our lives. It doesn’t even matter what it is, so long as it is something.
It could be music. It could be art. It could be our family, our friends, our pets. It could be our work or our hobbies. It could even be something as seemingly simple a small garden in our backyard, a couple dollars donated here or there to any number of charitable causes, the sound of a child’s laughter, a puffy, white cloud drifting lazily across a beautiful summer sky, or the sunlight shimmering off the surface of a nearby river. Again, it doesn’t matter what it is, and it doesn’t matter what you choose (and that’s the operative term, choose, because happiness IS a choice, my friend) to care about; the only thing that matters is that you care about something, because having something to care about is what makes life worth living; it’s what enables us to feel that oh-so-fleeting feeling we call happiness and to maybe, just maybe, hang onto it for more than a minute or two at a time.
In conclusion, if you are struggling to assign meaning to anything in your life or to care about anything, please don’t keep it to yourself as Chester did. Please get help, and don’t be afraid to ask others to help you, because out there, all around you, are people like me who choose, each and every day, to care about people just like you, because it’s what makes US happy and what gives US a reason to live, to get out of bed in the morning, and we are here to help you anytime you need help, even if we don’t know you or have never met you.
As Chester sang all throughout the song “One More Light”, which is from what is most likely Linkin Park’s new album of the same name, when it comes to caring about you and the one little, flickering star out of the millions in our Universe that you represent and whether or not it goes out, I do, and so do countless millions of other people you’ll probably never meet whose hearts would break if they knew that someone as special as you, who could potentially change the world for the better to an even greater extent than Chester did, was even thinking about ending his or her life.
Please, whatever you do, do not ever take your own life, because it’s never that nothing in life has any meaning; it’s only that you haven’t decided what to assign meaning to just yet. And I can promise you, as soon as you do, your life will be a whole lot better.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here today! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it!
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