Three weeks ago, one of my heroes took his own life. You never know who your heroes are until they’re gone. One day you listen to an old song from some band you like, the next you realize they’ve shaped who you are for over a decade.
One of the saddest truths in life is this:
“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.” ― Peter S. Beagle
Sometimes, it’s not until the hero collapses under that very burden and the fairy tale finds no happy ending that our eyes open.
I don’t think Chester Bennington realized how much of a hero he really was to me and millions of Linkin Park fans around the world. Because we didn’t either.
Now all that’s left for us is to write your name on every wall we walk past.
But even amidst the torrential outpour of love over this tragedy, there are the voices of those who tell us not to channel our grief into worship. To stay grounded.
“We mustn’t idolize him.” “He wasn’t that special.” “Suicides happen every day.”
Somehow, whatever greatness we find in a special person must be explained away. He had a great coach. She followed the 10,000-hour rule.
In our politically oh-so correct world of all equal everything, it feels out of place to have heroes. I feel out of place for worshipping my heroes.
That’s fucked up.
Nobody Remembers a Nobody
In The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, Will Durant writes:
“The history of France is not, if one may say it with all courtesy, the history of the French people; the history of those nameless men and women who tilled the soil, cobbled the shoes, cut the cloth, and peddled the goods (for these things have been done everywhere and always) — the history of France is the record of her exceptional men and women, her inventors, scientists, statesmen, poets, artists, musicians, philosophers, and saints, and of the additions which they made to the technology and wisdom, the artistry and decency, of their people and mankind. And so with every country, so with the world; its history is properly the history of its great men.”
In other words: Nobody remembers a nobody.
Even in a world where everyone can reach millions of people at the click of a button that hasn’t changed. We just hate admitting it more. Because fame feels so close. But it is as it always was: most of us won’t remember most of us.
Yes, thanks to viral videos a lot more people will get their 15 minutes of fame. But very few will get on 60 Minutes.
Leaving a legacy is a different game altogether. You really have to mean it.
Chester knew this:
“I always wanted to be a rock star. That was my childhood dream. That’s what I told everybody I was going to be when I grew up.” — Chester Bennington, Linkin Park
You may have a real talent for singing. Maybe, singing is a big part of your life. But to Chester, singing was his life. There’s a difference and a profound one at that.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Herman Melville, Monet, Bach, Kafka, even Van Gogh, died poor and unknown — after having dedicated their entire life to their craft.
The reason we still remember their names now is an incredible combination of luck, timing, chemistry and, most importantly, a lifetime of dedication and perseverance.
Who are we to take that away from them? Who are we to think we’re entitled to an entry into the books of history?
We Can’t All Be Famous
Technology may distort our view, but the numbers don’t lie: Very few of us will end up on someone else’s pedestal. And that’s not a sad thing.
In fact, most of us aren’t meant to. Or want to.
But we’ve gotten so angry about this fact, as a collective we’ve managed to push our heroes into a corner of humility — whether they like it or not. Chester felt it.
He’d always say things like “If fans come up to me, I talk to them.” or “You’re constantly trying to prove yourself, even after you’ve made it.” or “We’d like to think that our music will always be bigger than any one of our individual personalities.”
PR teams tell their athletic talent to play it cool, entrepreneurs say their idea was “just common sense” and actors read out long thank you lists at award ceremonies to not look entitled.
How often do you see a noteworthy individual take pride in their accomplishments? How many of your heroes have you heard say: “I deserve this. I worked hard for this.”
Even more importantly: How many times did you agree?
The Value of Shameless Worship
Imagine, just for a second, you embraced all the inequality in this world. What if you gave credit where credit is due, even if it means credit for just a few?
What if you let go of all that anger? What if you let your heroes do the screaming? Wouldn’t you feel a lot closer to them? At peace?
I know Chester’s screaming helped me a lot when I was younger. He wore his heart on his sleeve, so darkness wouldn’t grow in mine. Anything but reverence would be a disservice.
No, I refuse to let my hero get lost in a sea of equal faces. Life’s never fair. But my shameless worship is my relief. It makes it easier to bear.
My shameless worship is my vision. It allows me to see.
And oh how clearly I see.
“I see men standing on the edge of knowledge, and holding the light a little farther ahead; men carving marble into forms ennobling men; men molding peoples into better instruments of greatness; men making a language of music and music out of language; men dreaming of finer lives-and living them. Here is a process of creation more vivid than in any myth; a godliness more real than in any creed.” — Will Durant, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time
You Can Still Shape the Course of History
Miserable people chisel away at heroism every day. She got lucky. He’s not special.
Let them keep chiseling in blindness, because that’s exactly what makes our heroes special. That they saw the odds and continued anyway.
We can’t all go to the places they’ve visited. But we can take our hats off. Stop pushing them. Stop envying them. And help them earn their rightful place in history.
Open your eyes. Find your heroes. Lift them through the fucking roof.
And worship them while they’re still here.