“Say Hello to Heaven”

“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

I love this saying. It may be a mesh of two quotes. One is attributed to author James M. Barrie that says, “Be kinder than necessary.” The other is a quote attributed to Plato that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

When I heard Chris Cornell had died, I was shocked. Growing up in Eastern Washington, my taste in music leaned toward heavy metal and hard rock. I can remember staying up on the weekends to watch the Headbangers Ball. One night, Eddie Vedder and another member of Pearl Jam were on the show, but I had not heard any of their music. I remember hearing the opening chords of “Alive” and thinking, ‘Oh yeah.’ I fell in love with Grunge. Pearl Jam. Sound Garden. Nirvana. Later I discovered Mother Love Bone and with the them a wonderment of what could have been, if.

The shock of Chris Cornell’s death increased when I learned the death had been labeled a suicide. It made me think of the internal battle that each of us face daily, often silently. And as I listened to the Temple of the Dog album, an album dedicated to the memory of Andrew Wood, I heard the songs in a different light.

As a writer, I put a little bit of myself in all my writing, and I began to wonder how much of the album was a personal cry, specifically the songs “Times of Trouble,” “Say Hello to Heaven” and “Four Walled World.” The lyrics meaning are somehow different, but I can’t find the words to adequately express why. Or I am self-censoring, not putting it into words because they sound wrong to my ears.

There was a family who attended my church. The family moved on, but what felt like a few years later, we got the news that the daughter had committed suicide. She was probably 12 or 13 at the time. I remember someone saying that we should never make a “permanent decision based on temporary circumstances.” I wondered at her age if she knew that life has ebbs and flows, ups and downs. Nothing is permanent. I began to wonder at what age do we comprehend the constant changes of season of life.

I realize that in the middle of some seasons, the end seems so far away. You silently cry out, ‘How long?’ Before any judgment, there should be compassion as to what level of despair a person must be in to take their own life. I would not call it selfishness or cowardliness. That is not my judgement to make. I have no idea of what their battle is. The level of despair would have to be high if things like family, friends and community are not enough to hold a person to this life.

Having dealt with depression, my reaction isn’t that the person should just snap out of it. I don’t know what the answer is, but for me it was learning to challenge the sometimes overwhelming thoughts that were crowded in my head. This constant challenge can be mentally exhausting, which is when I just go to sleep.

Learning to challenge my internal world changed my writing. I spent years writing out of my pain and despair. In some ways, it seemed like it was supposed to be that way. Dickinson. Poe. It just seemed that the price to write was to go through the valley to create. That has changed for me over the years in terms of writing. I was talking to my sister about drug and alcohol use in the creative process. Writing (or creating) sober, we self-censor and we hold back, as I am doing now. We also talked about the impact depression and trauma bring to the creative process. Perhaps the beauty in the rawness from writing from deep pain is that a filter is somehow removed there as well. As an artist, we become more open and more honest. For me, the urge of melancholy still exists like a shadow that follows me everywhere I go. It wants to consume me and overtake me. I find that human touch helps. The touch connects me to something/someone here.

I was thinking about Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Amy Winehouse, Scott Weiland and now Chris Cornell. All super talented and gifted. All gone way too fast. It is way too easy to dismiss their deaths and blame alcohol and drugs. We are all coping. Some cope with drugs and alcohol as addicts. Some cope as functioning alcoholics and addicts in nine-to-five jobs. Some cope with sex. Some cope with food. Some cope with God. We all just find ways to cope and cling to some hope. We find ways to numb ourselves and numb our pain.

In this current season, I find myself longing for something. Have you ever felt a yearning deep in your soul? Whatever it is sometimes feels close, but then it feels far away. The right song can bring that longing. The question becomes is that longing for something behind me or something in front of me. The yearning is enough to make me want to cry out in frustration as to what it is I am longing for. What it is that will fill the emptiness and void of whatever is missing.

In the end, what I am trying to say is be kind. It doesn’t matter how successful a person may seem on the outside, or how happy a person may seem on the outside. You never know what a person is dealing with or going through. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself.

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