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Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory, One More Light, Chester Bennington, Mike Shinoda

Sang Like An Angel, Screamed Like A Demon

I remember back in high school when I wore oversized hoodies, dyed my hair black, and had Vans slip-ons with the teal cross stitching. I thought I was hardcore because I listened to Avril Lavigne and Relient K.

But I wasn’t really hardcore—just weepy and wimpy.

Until I graduated to the good stuff: Evanescence, Hoobastank, System of a Down, Staind, Breaking Benjamin, Linkin Park. Then all that wimpy, weepiness evolved into a whole new kind of beast, spinning into a whirlwind of beneath-the-surface rage and sarcastic wit.

When I got my first Linkin Park CD (Hybrid Theory), I played it on repeat—played the emotions those twelve songs evoked on repeat. I’ll never forget the way those songs validated the whirlwind inside of me.

Linkin Park’s lyrics didn’t just inspire me.
They saved me.

Linkin Park, Hybrid Theory, One More Light, Chester Bennington, Mike Shinoda

In May of 2017, my husband surprised me and bought tickets for us to see Linkin Park in Charlotte on August 17, 2017. It was their “One More Light World Tour” and it would be my first time seeing them.

It was a literal dream come true. And I couldn’t wait.

July 20, 2017

Chester Bennington took his life—robbed breath from the lungs with strands of suspended string.

The tour was cancelled.
And the world was devastated.

For some, it was his tattoos—the way they crept likes vines up the arms and across the chest. For others, it was his look—the way the glasses framed his face. The gauged ears. That spikey hair. Skinny bones swallowed up by pants too baggy for a belt. But, for most, it was his lyrics, his voice. It was the syncopation in the songs; the melody in the music. The way he belted and bellowed those words only to make them reverberate and ricochet against all the aching places and spaces that lay deep within a human heart.

There’s a saying that went around.

Sang like an angel, screamed like a demon.

All the pain and longing in his voice, sounding off in decibels louder than any demon’s scream, ripping through the darkest of synths and shredding guitars—it brought us all to a place of calm and quiet. Like swaying a baby to the steady hum of a lullaby, rocking it to rest.

He soothed our sorrow and insanity to sleep.

That’s why the world loved him. That’s why the fans followed.

But those songs weren’t just lyrics written to soothe a crying world to sleep. Those songs were his words, his thoughts, his pain.

And he wasn’t just singing to the world from a stage.
He was seeping his own sorrow from the seams.

And it kills, literally kills, that the light he brought to the world wasn’t bright enough to keep his own here. It wasn’t bright enough for him, and it wasn’t bright enough for my cousin.

The hardest question to ask right now is how. How and why. How and why and when. How and why and when and where? How and why and when and where and who? Because, with suicide, the answers never come and the questions never stop.

Why? Why did he do it? Why didn’t I see it coming? How is this happening? How come he didn’t reach out? How did I miss it? When? When did the idea to do it come? When did the idea to die creep back in? Where? Where was I? Where were the signs? Who? Who hurt you so much to make you want to do this? Who did you need? Was who I was to you good enough? And why? Just why?

Always why.
Forever why.

I wonder if Chester ever heard the echo of a million voices singing, screaming his songs back at him. In the quiet moments on stage, when the music died and only voices were left to bellow and whisper the endings of songs, did the lyrics ever lull him to sweet peace in the soul?

Why couldn’t his own songs save him?
Why couldn’t our singing save him?

The numb he felt. The place in his heart where he longed to belong. All the insecurity and disgust crawling under every layer of his own skin. That paranoia, the voices in the back of his head.

He wasn’t just singing to the world from a stage.
He was seeping his own sorrow from the seams.

And the signals couldn’t have been any closer than the earbuds in my own ears.

We humans, we save people from ditches on the sides of roads. We jump start electrical pulses in broken hearts and make them start beating again. We sit across the table with friends and speak words that save hundreds, and thousands.

We are always saving.
Always saving.

But, human hands can only stretch so far. And, sometimes, a heart we love so much can slip through the crack.

I think that is what hurts and haunts the most. The fact that, even when we knew, even when we tried, even when we had every song to soothe the sorrow. Sometimes we just can’t calm the cry inside.

No matter how hard we tried to keep the flame flickering on the candle, we lost its light.

Lost one more light.

And the world really does become a little less brilliant because of it.

All I can say about blood spilling from veins and lungs starved from oxygen and pills disintegrating into a million fatal fragments is that, we can’t resurrect the dead.

But we can rescue the dying.

In our living and our loving and our listening we can keep trying to speak over the screams that overshadow the sound of love.

It might not always stop everyone.
But it will save some.

I don’t know.

That hope is all I am left with.

That and, well…the empty space where the chair was once filled.

Chester, you are missed.

And, soldier, you are missed, too.

When all you feel is darkness & all you want is a bullet to the brain to make the pain go away

I have a cousin, who is more like a brother, who took his life 163 days ago.

The wound is fresh. Even the grammar of it hurts—do I say have a cousin or had.

His memory haunts, leaves me tormented by daydreams I force upon myself—the reels of horror that replay in the mind when I think about how his brain might have shattered when the bullets plunged in slow motion from the barrel to his bones.


He left this world 11 days after I gave birth to my first child, 11 days after breath screamed through my lungs and blood surged through my body while life forced itself from out of me.

The day life mattered the most to me.

It was a Saturday morning, light falling and spilling brilliant through the window. The kind of light that glows so bright you wonder if someone slit a hole in the blanket of the heavens.

My husband and I were taking pictures of our son when the phone rang with a sobbing sound on the other end that was sighing and breathing and choking all at once.

“He’s not with us anymore,” my mom said.

“He’s dead.”

163 days ago, the wound still fresh. The torment of his tragedy tattooed forever in my head.

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I think about it most when the day falls dim and silent. When the bellowing air conditioner hushes to a whispering chill, when the screen of my phone fades black and dies out, when the baby falls asleep and the echo of his laughter stops dancing through the air.

That is when I make my brain go there.

That is when I think about my cousin and try to imagine the words that filled his brain the moment before steel shot through every blood-soaked cell in his brain.

The only way he could have done it is if that raging lie that slips into the crevices of weary souls whispered louder than the truth that could have carried and covered him.

We need that raging lie to fall silent, fall lifeless—lose its hold and grip and slaying power.

We need light to win; we need love to win.

I first came across Hannah Brencher and her writing when her first book, If You Find This Letter, came out. Her words weren’t flashy, and I loved that about her. She wrote with graceful simplicity that was both gut-honest and witty.

Come Matter Here is Hannah’s second book, and it is exactly what it says it is: an invitation to matter.

I can’t help but shout from the rooftops, calling for any and every person marked by heartache and longing (that makes all of us, am I right?) to get this book. To read the words and drink them deep. To hear Hannah’s story and to realize that we are not alone in our wandering and wonderingnot alone in the depression, the loneliness, the pain, and our search for purpose.

Her book has been like a match dragged across a tiny strip of gritty paper, lighting candles one after another, igniting and stoking hope to burn bright in others.

COMMUNITY. FEAR. LOVE. ANXIETY. DEPRESSION. FAITH IN GOD. THE BIBLE. PRAYER.

She writes about all of that. And she doesn’t dance around her words, either. She doesn’t dress her words up with cute cliches and pretty filters. She just tells her story and tells of the hope that has changed the ending of her story.

And lately, I’m starting to believe that’s really all of us are really here for—all of these stories and the changed (for the better) endings.

There are a lot of bodies walking among us.

There are a lot of bodies walking among us in the stores, at the banks, and on the baseball fields, and a lot of these bodies have heads that hold brains concealed behind pretty hair and fake smiles. Brains with battleships.

Brains with brokenness and wreckage and other words like that.

Depression is real. Suicidal thoughts and wanting to end the flow of blood, the rising chest—it’s all real. Cold steel against warm skin is real—the sharp of a blade; the ring of a barrel. The mathematics of mental health are real. There are real people that walk around with the very real calculation in their brain that

World – Me = Better.

There couldn’t be a more flawed math equation.

It makes me wonderwhat kind of math was going on in my cousin’s head—what kind of long division and fractions he saw. The hovering numbers; the intimidating symbols. Even harder, I can’t believe I missed the signs. Can’t believe I’d mistaken negative numbers for positives, wrong answers for right ones. Now my head is swirling in a reality that just won’t add up and I’m seeing the math was wrong all along.

It was wrong all along.

Death didn’t have to be his ending. That kind of death and darkness doesn’t have to be anyone’s ending.

(If that seems like it’d be easy to say from the platform of a blank page with a blinking cursor know that I’m not just some pleading voice behind a blog. I am a knower of Darkness—Darkness and I were one once friends.)

If you are in the thick of darkness and all you want is a bullet to the brain to make the pain go away, please…please. Read Hannah’s book. Shoot me an email, text your friend, go to your doctor, put the knife down.

Light can be in your story; light can be in your life.

If you are struggling with finding a community to be a part of, or with your faith in God, or with fear, or anxiety, or believing that your life has purpose and meaning—read Hannah’s book.

There is hope for you, hope stored by the buckets in heaven. And Hannah’s words help to unearth that hope.

If ever there was a phrase that our generation needed to hear right now, it would be Come Matter Here. If ever we’ve needed the reminder that we are invited (come), that we are important (matter), and that we belong (here)—it’s now.

To be called into mattering within the places and the spaces that we’re in—it’s the one thing that every aching soul and beating heart on this planet wants and needs and lives and breathes for.

Even dies for.

I love you, Soldier. Miss you most.

They Killed You, But They Didn’t Kill You

Sometimes, when your fuzzy hair stands up in all the right places, you look like him—you really look like him.

And, sometimes, when you chuckle that half-smile of a grin that makes your eyes squint round and thin, I swear I see him—I really see him.

 

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I caught a glimmer of a sparkle in your eye today as you rolled to your side, happily kicking your feet (as every baby should), and it made me reminisce about the accomplishments that you, a breathing thing with only four months of living under your belt, have achieved this far.

Four months. The number rings a bell. Four months. The memory comes crashing in. Four months—that’s how old he was, too.

The year was 1987, and that’s how old he was when they’d stuck him with a needle, slapped on some cotton to cover the hole, then sent him home. With a bandaid wrapped over the top, all the while a poison boiled and brewed beneath the surface of his skin. That’s how old he was when his life and breath foamed at the mouth, his four-month-old baby bones rattling like a stretch of railroad tracks shouldering the weight of freight trains more than what their frames could bear.

Oh, Jord.

Four months—that’s how old you were when the serum stole your soul. When it sucked dry every dream Mom and Dad had for you, every high hope the rest of us had for our big brother. That’s how old you were, and that’s how old you’ve stayed. All these years, half a brain—dead. The other half, shooting explosions into gray matter the same way lightening shoots up the skeleton of innocent trees—damaged.

I’ve always been deathly afraid of this moment, of the moment when I’d hold my own man-child. Rock him, sing lullabies to him, hush him to sleep. Only to look into his face and see yours. Only for his drool to stick against my skin like yours did. Only for his hollering cry to send me to cower and cover my ears for fear that his cry might sound like yours did that day, the day They Killed You, But Didn’t Kill You.

I’d always wondered how your two stories would bleed into one another, or intersect to say the least. If I would be able to separate my future son’s story from yours, and yours from his.

But the truth is your memory rests in every corner of our lives and I cannot push or wish it out. And I don’t think that I ever could or should. Your voice joins the chorus of ours when we read aloud the words from all the children’s books you love. That face of yours in the photo of you with the black and white tuxedo, and the wispy hair, and the bowtie (just so slightly crooked) slips across my mind when I hear him giggle—when he makes a face like yours.

Your name rolls off my tongue sometimes, when I mean to say his. I talk to him with the same words, the same vocabulary that I created and spoke for you.

And I don’t mean to bend or twist your story. I do not mean to assign your suffering to another’s life, or to even subject my son to a horror that was not and is not his own.

But, the very parts of you that died too soon live on in the existence of my very own baby boy, my son. And so it is that my son, four months old, will walk and crawl and think and breathe and live in the ways that you were never able to. And there is a part of me that celebrates for him but that grieves your lost opportunities, too.

Sometimes, you do not need a person to pat you on the back and smile. Sometimes you need a person that will dress in black with you and send balloons like prayers into the sky, saying, “We are sad to miss that part about him, too,” and saying, “They might have killed part of him, but they did not kill all of him.”

So when the baby starts to walk, I will think of you and imagine your first steps, too. When he suddenly utters his first words like paint splattered across the face of white canvas, I will hear you. I will hear your first words run off like a babbling brook, too.

And everyday he lives I will think about you. I will think about how you may not walk and talk like he someday will, but how crazy grateful I am that you have breath in your lungs and how they couldn’t take that from you.

Thank God they didn’t take that too.