When I heard of Chester Bennington’s passing, I felt a hollowness within.
Linkin Park’s music (especially their debut Hybrid Theory album) helped define a major inflection point in my life and growth. I’ve struggled with existential questions since childhood, and it only got more acute in my teenage years, but it was in my first year in medical school ― on the cusp of my adulthood ― that the growing question of whether my life had meaning was becoming more and more urgent.
Like a vampire without fear, questions that used to creep up on me during sleepless nights had started intruding into daylight.
The lyrics from the opening of Puddle of Mudd’s Blurry, which captured how I felt at the time, are forever etched in my memory:
Everything’s so blurry / And everyone’s so fake / And everybody’s empty / And everything is so messed up…
The sense of life’s meaninglessness was a crushing weight. Wasn’t it all a waste of time, this endless pursuit of goals and achievements and things, when in the end we would all die anyway? And then what? People would remember you? What would that even matter? What did any of it matter?
I often felt, then, like a piece of driftwood floating on the ocean of existence, with no land in sight. It was into this state of mind that Bennington’s powerful lungs first blasted into my ears.
I tried so hard and got so far / But in the end, it doesn’t even matter / I had to fall to lose it all / But in the end it doesn’t even matter! — In The End
Yes, this, their first single…
It was perfect. I was already falling in love with angry music that captured these feelings that I didn’t know what to do with, but Bennington’s voice did them new justice: the haunting sound of his croons expressed my longings, the power of his screams articulated my anger and frustration. The insane guitar riffs, banging drums and actual rapping were only the icing on the cake. Perfect, I tell you.
I cannot take this anymore / I’m saying everything I’ve said before / All these words they make no sense / I find bliss in ignorance / Less I hear the less you’ll say / But you’ll find that out anyway / Just like before / Everything you say to me / Takes me one step closer to the edge / And I’m about to break! / I need a little room to breathe / ’Cause I’m one step closer to the edge / And I’m about to break! — One Step Closer
And who can forget those lines, toward the end of One Step Closer, that weren’t sung but simply screamed, and which aptly captured what I wanted to say in many situations: “Shut up! Shut up when I’m talking to you!”
I know I’ve got a face in me / Points out all my mistakes to me / You’ve got a face on the inside too and / Your paranoia’s probably worse — Papercut
Chester Bennington faced a lot of difficulty when he wrote these songs, including sexual abuse, school bullying, and parental divorce and drug dependence all before age 13. And he would live through a lot more in the years to follow. He wasn’t simply writing stuff to sell albums, he was sharing his personal struggles through his music. I didn’t even know this at the time — the internet was still very new then, mind you — but I didn’t need to: the honesty coming through in the music was too raw to not be real.
Crawling in my skin / These wounds they will not heal / Fear is how I fall / Confusing what is real — Crawling
Music has often offered a soundtrack to my life. And Linkin Park provided the best some of the best sounds for this period of my life. I had family, but felt alone. I had friends, yet I felt lonely. I had questions whose very validity I was starting to question. I was confused about what mattered, adrift and searching for an identity to anchor myself to in a world that didn’t feel like it had space for me.
You like to think you’re never wrong / You have to act like you’re someone / You want someone to hurt like you / You want to share what you have been through / You live what you’ve learned! — Points of Authority
My searching eventually (story for another day) led me back to the childhood faith I had first started to question, then deliberately walked away from years earlier. I went back to practices I had abandoned: attending church, trying to pray, and reading a Bible. It was in the last I discovered the following words…
I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. —The Preacher (Ecclesiastes 2 ESV)
For the first time in my life, the Bible felt relevant to my actual experience, and to this day, there’s a special place in my heart for the book of Ecclesiastes. I found new hope, first through my newfound faith, and later through the music of another band, Switchfoot, and from a song that, when I first had it, left me speechless with how effectively it described my entire life up to that point in a few lines.
In a world full of bitter pain / And bitter doubts / I was trying so hard to fit in, fit in / Until I found out / That I don’t belong here / I don’t belong here / I will carry a cross and a song / Where I don’t belong, I don’t belong — Beautiful Letdown
But even if they didn’t offer answers, I will never forget that it was Linkin Park who not only helped me ask the questions, but also more richly articulate the emotions that accompanied them. I think now of something CS Lewis said once, that when, in a group of three friends, one should leave or die, the other two would lose that in each other which only appeared as a response to the now-departed friend. Even though I didn’t know Bennington personally, and even though you could argue that what I did know of him, his music, hasn’t left me—yet I feel like I’ve lost something that I can’t quite describe yet.
Perhaps he took those words away too.
I’ve thought much since Bennington’s passing about some lines from a song about sexual abuse from Linkin Park’s first album, voiced not by Bennington himself but by Mike Shinoda, who did the rapping for the band…
Forfeit the game / Before somebody else / Takes you out of the frame / And puts your name to shame / Cover up your face / You can’t run the race / The pace is too fast / You just won’t last — Points of Authority
I don’t know—and maybe no one possibly could—what Bennington was going through that made him decide in his own way to “forfeit the game.” Perhaps the wounds crawling in his skin really never did heal. Perhaps the fear was how he fell, taking that one last step over the edge. We may never know.
But I know this much: by being open about his wounds, he showed us that we can be open about ours. And in the end, that matters.
If you’re going through stuff you need to share, you can call the following, depending where you are: