The apparent suicide of Chris Cornell, the frontman for the band Soundgarden, is hitting the world pretty hard today. Every person is important in the grand scheme of things, of course. But there are some people who break through the mass of humanity and create art that helps millions express their own inner worlds. These people become especially beloved, and when they make their final exit, the impact is felt in a big way.
And when they leave by their own hand, there’s the usual run of bewildered questions. Why would someone who had achieved astounding success want to end it all? How did things get so bad that living was a burden they couldn’t carry anymore? Surely death couldn’t be the answer.
What’s missing here is the recognition that when one loses hope -that fragile, ephemeral tie to the future that gives life meaning – it becomes increasingly harder to keep plugging away, day in and day out.
I don’t pretend to know what Chris Cornell was dealing with. But I do know that many of us who experience life in a very immediate and intimate way, the so-called sensitive people, have struggled heavily against the temptation to put an end to the pain.
I first met Michella when we were playing a church gig together. We tiptoed around each other for a few months, friendly, but not exactly friends. And then, I’m not even sure how, we started sharing bits of our lives with one another, until we were communicating on an almost daily basis.
We did the usual girlfriend type things, of course. And we had lots of fun together. But one of the main things we bonded over was our almost lifelong questioning of what was the whole point of this life thing, and was it really worth the trouble. We both wrestled with whether or not life had any meaning. She found refuge in her religion. Me? I wasn’t sure.
And then, Michella started feeling sick. And, no matter what she did, she couldn’t make herself feel better. Trips to the doctor, increasingly invasive tests – and the worst news.
She had lung cancer. For a young woman who had never smoked, it was a diagnosis that didn’t make any sense. But cancer doesn’t care if you didn’t do anything to “deserve” it.
She fought it. She started dating and later married the man she’d been secretly in love with for years. She watched her teenage daughter blossom into adulthood. She made plans to live into her 90s.
And, as she became increasingly weaker and homebound, we talked and texted constantly. I moved to New York. She asked me to share my adventures with her. I sent her pictures of everything, told her about the smells on the subway, the breeze coming off the Hudson River, my crazy roommate. She wanted to know all of it.
She also wanted desperately to live. She no longer questioned whether life was worth living. And she urged me to live my life and make it extraordinary.
I never got to say goodbye to my friend. One day, she just stopped responding to my texts. I found out from her sister that she was too weak to communicate. And then she was gone.
It was her birthday three months ago. And the only way I could think to celebrate was to play music for her, for us. And this is the song I chose.
There is no conclusion here, no grand revelation, no answers to deep questions. Just a sharing of experience. Which is all any of us can really offer one another.