The Things We’ll Never Do

Not too long ago, I was talking to someone and the topic of the things we said we’d never do came up. It started a whole long memory of the absurd list of things I said I would never do in my life, and they often became things I had to do or did do, for one reason or another. Some of them were quite funny, proclamations that were made given the best knowledge I had of something (that “something” usually being life itself), and that perception gave me a hardened-line view of what I had to do (or shouldn’t do). The result was my list, my ridiculous, sometimes absurd list, of things I resolved I would “never do:”

I said, once upon a time, I’d never live in the south. Yeah, I know, a decade of living in the south later, ha ha ha ha ha. This gets funnier when I realize I am in preparation to move even further south, and much closer to the “deep south” as it approaches.

I said I’d never wear an underwire bra. I read this thing years ago by some group (maybe Women Against Underwires?) that underwire bras cause cancer. I have a hard time saying that with a straight face now, because the reasoning is absurd and there is absolutely no evidence underwire bras cause cancer, but I resolved I wasn’t wearing one. That was fine when I was a B cup, but later on now at a D cup, almost every bra I own is an underwire.

I said I’d never date a minister, especially a pastor. I sort of kept this resolve, because my mindset was reasonable (well, sort of). I think I want to say it was a “reasonable” mindset because it was how I felt about it but I fully well admit that I might not say that to someone else if they came with the same thoughts. I figured having two ministers in a relationship would become competitive and would ruin any chances at happiness or harmony between them. Now, I’d probably say that it depends on the couple, because instead of dating ministers or pastors, I wound up with forlorn pastors, minister wanna-bees, aspiring ministers, pew preachers, and men who felt they were superior to ministers, even though they weren’t called to ministry and had no idea what it was like, whatsoever. Lesson learned.

I said I’d never work with young people. I think I said this because it wasn’t something I was real familiar with, and I didn’t think I’d be very good at it. My experiences working with children had never been very good, and because I was used to being around older people for most of my life, I figured that was where I was best suited. Now I have a large Millennial population involved with my ministry, and I am blessed to be able to help them out – it was just not something I foresaw.

I said I’d never grow my hair out again. In my defense, breaking this one wasn’t really my fault. I went to hairdressers who kept butchering my hair, so I resolved I’d let my mom cut it from then on. Problem was, my mom was ten states away, and going to visit once a month wasn’t feasible. I went through periods of sometimes four to six months where my hair would grow out, I’d look like an inmate on Orange Is The New Black, and then I’d go to see my mom, she’d cut it all off, and we’d start all over again. It’s only been the past couple of years, since she moved to North Carolina, that my hair has gotten reasonably under control.

The list goes on and on, but as I sat and thought about all the things I said I’d never do, there was also a list of things I said I would definitively do: go to Europe, make the New York Times bestseller list, buy a designer suit, run a marathon, learn how to speak Icelandic (for no other reason than it is the most difficult language in the world to learn), take up piano again, learn to quilt, learn to make my own clothes, and so on – there was one definitive piece of the “I would definitely do” puzzle that I’m not quite sure where it fits in anymore – I wanted to go to a rock concert.

I got into the grunge genre of music when I was in junior high. Back then, I was more of a proverbial tomboy and most of my friends were boys. They listened to grunge and alternative, so I, by proxy, heard it. I didn’t get into it to impress anyone and no one forced it on me; it was just the soundtrack of their lives, the music I heard, and it was, therefore, the music I picked up on. Popular music in the mid-90s was alternative and/or grunge, rap, hip-hop, or pop, and most of us listened to one of those genres more than the rest. Sure, I was familiar with all of those genres and the popular songs of the day, and I liked some of them, but my main musical interest definitely fell into the first category. I liked some of the groups more than others and I definitely liked some songs more than others, but overall, grunge and much of the alternative musical movement spoke to me. It wasn’t flowery; it was direct; it was raw. It spoke to real human emotions. It was real, living, something that was a part of everyday realities.

I still remember April 5, 1994 when Kurt Cobain died. I came home from school and can see the live footage of fans gathered outside his mansion as Courtney Love read a statement to the fans. The devastation in many I knew was apparent, as the voice of our generation, one of the primary ones that changed the way we understood music, was now gone. His death brought to life the negative realities many of us were too young to understand at the time: money, fame, influence, prestige don’t take away the hurts and pains we carry as people, and they don’t make everything better. One by one, most of the leaders of the grunge movement (and even some of the alternative movement) succumbed to one thing or another, whether drugs, depression, despair, loneliness, hopelessness, all of the above, or something else, between Kurt Cobain’s death and today, we’ve seen an awful lot of people come and go, often with harrowing deaths that rip at the very hearts of fans with the burning question…why?

My favorite band was Soundgarden; even to this day, there isn’t a single album or song Chris Cornell ever sang, wrote, or performed that I can say I didn’t like. I loved his work with Soundgarden; I loved Temple of the Dog, which I actually discovered after Soundgarden, in large part to the recommendation of an ex-boyfriend; I loved Audioslave, especially the way it gave a more mature feel and ideal to his work and to the work of the other members of Rage Against The Machine; I loved his solo career. His haunting, soulful voice spoke to me in a way that many others didn’t. Later, when I was a theology student, learning that many of his songs and those of his bands contained Biblical, faith, or apocalyptic themes was even more thrilling and interesting to me. By this time, Soundgarden had long broken up, so my goal was to see Audioslave. It wasn’t long before they also broke up, and I was thrilled at the idea of Soundgarden getting back together. It eventually happened, but little did I know, that would also become an unfulfilled dream.

Linkin Park was a band I found at just the right time, at just the right moment, when the need was there in my life. “In The End,” off their first album, “Hybrid Theory,” spoke to me in just the right way, at just the right time. By the time we got to the song “Numb,” I’d venture to say their music was life-saving to me, in many ways. Much of my life experience has been one big struggle to try and find a place when I am deliberately (and divinely) put into situations where I just don’t fit in. It’s hard going against the grain. It makes you feel lonely and isolated, and like nobody cares about you. Yes, we know that God cares, but God didn’t just create us to know Him, He also created us to know and care one another, and sometimes we just need to know that someone else understands. Linkin Park was a band that conveyed that understanding; that hope; that message that instead of giving me a Bible verse, a pat on the back, and a cute, little slogan, that there are people out there who really understood what was going on, and we could connect to in empathy, even if it was just through a song.

Years ago, even during the early days of Linkin Park, the idea of seeing a band play in a concert was still a feasible goal. Concert tickets weren’t so ridiculously priced, like they are today. Yes, concerts weren’t always full of the safest crowds in the world, but I knew better than to join mosh pits or crowd surf. I wasn’t interested in the drug subculture present in the rock movements of the 90s. Concerts were about bands or artists and their fans, and about being in the same place with others who loved the music and who connected with it in some way, even if it was different from yours.

Now, down the lines, I feel like I have genuinely come into something too late. The concerts, hearing and seeing the artists, was something I was going to do “later.” It seemed as if studying and focus was a better option, and as ticket prices became increasingly expensive, spending a couple hundred dollars on a concert seemed like a waste of money, especially when there is rent to pay and car insurance due. One set of priorities replaced another, and now that life comes around full circle, it’s so hard to hear that some of what I definitely wanted to do has now made it to the “things I’ll never do” list. Maybe it’s that I waited too long, or maybe it’s just that some things, some experiences, aren’t meant to be.

But, alas, I still have the music. Long after Kurt Cobain has died, now after the long list of others have also died, most recently including Chris Cornell and Linkin Park front man Chester Bennington, there is nothing lost in realizing the music spoke. It’s still speaking, long after the flannel shirts were put away and my Linkin Park CD wound up ripped on my .mp3 player. The sentiments still speak, even if I never walk into a concert, not for the rest of my days. The things I said I would never do have been transformed, as have the things I said I would do. Somehow, somewhere in here, it’s all still there, working itself out. The music is a part of me, making my life better and transforming me to a person who can keep going, no matter how difficult it is. I’ll miss the bands, I’ll miss the music, but I always will remember there will be another band, another artist, who will also be there, just in the right time, to herald what is needed in that moment.

It hurts that the artists reached points in their lives where they found themselves emotionally and mentally isolated to the point of suicides, overdoses, and medicating themselves with substances that don’t let go easily and kill those who take them. It hurts to know that the drive to create is still one of those mystical processes that we don’t understand, and that often drives people to very dark and difficult places, that many of us can’t easily relate to. It’s hard to know that millions of us receiving their words, their thoughts, and receiving them as our own, was not what they needed, especially in their final and darkest moments. I don’t know what was on their “never” and “definite” lists, but I do hope, some way, somehow, they were able to meet with them. I can’t help but believe that part of the reason for their untimely ends is the change in society, in our music industry, in the way that their music is perceived and received, and that some of it had to do with feeling out of place, foreign to the world and their genres, and that made them feel isolated, like we felt before we found their songs. I don’t believe it’s all of it, and I recognize substance abuse, depression, and suicide can be complicated, but I wonder, I just wonder, if some of it is because a part of them knows that despite millions of fans…something was over.

Something is over. Many things are over; not just the 90s and early 2000s. I pray always for the hope and realization to hang on to remember that despite the losses, and despite the ends, that there are new beginnings ahead, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I’ve learned money isn’t everything, especially in the context we often perceive it to be. I’ve learned that change isn’t always better, but it comes, nonetheless. I’ve learned there are good people in the world, trustworthy and ready, even if we never meet them in person, for ourselves. I’ve learned that trust isn’t just for people, and that faith isn’t just for Sunday, but are principles that guide our every steps, explain the things that don’t work out the way we want, the things we don’t understand, and that reserved judgment is for God, because we don’t know the end from the beginning like He does.

I am learning to be thankful for the “nevers” and “definites” in life, and learning that no matter how many lists we can make, how many plans we have, life has a way of making and re-making plans for us. Somewhere, some way, we always find what we need, just when we need it.

Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, thanks for being there, always, just when I needed you. I might not have seen either of you live, but the importance remains, because your music was and is a “definite” in my life.

© 2017 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

I never wanted to write these words down for you
with the pages of phrases of all the things we’ll never do
So I blow out the candle
and I put you to bed
Since you can’t say to me now
how the dogs broke your bone
there’s just one thing left to be said

So say hello to heaven, heaven, heaven…

– Say Hello To Heaven, Temple of the Dog (Chris Cornell, 1991)