I Am the Highway- Wise Project 2018 #TenaciousTuesday

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Highway through Banff National Park

I was about 20 years old and living in London, Ontario and I hung out with a group of Western University Students that for a moment in time were a cross between an episode of Friends and a season of Seinfeld.  The leader of our pack was a hot artist named Adam from Vancouver that dated my friend Krista for a New York minute. My entire life up until that point could have had its own soundtrack and I loved the evenings that we spent at the local brew pub; The Ceeps; singing along with faithful Rick and his guitar and his tireless repertoire of classic songs that were our parent’s favorites. This morning I was driving Morgan to school and Neil Diamonds Sweet Caroline was playing on the radio, Morgan turned to me and said “every single time I hear this song, no matter where I am I swear I can hear you singing.”

Immediately I was transported back in time and I was a very young woman with her friends at the pub onstage with Rick the regular local talent singing alcohol induced back up and never missing a “bump bah bah” in the breath between lines in the chorus to Sweet Caroline. To this day, I never miss a beat and it quite touched me that a memory of mine has sparked a life long memory for her.

Saturday Haley and I were driving home and I was singing and truck dancing along to the radio when Haley shouts “Turn it up that’s my jam!” To see my thirteen year old belting out “If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,” has to be right up there with my proudest Mommy moments, right up there with one of my children saying to me “You can do it put your back into it or ‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance well they’re are no friends of mine’ “

These are important parenting moments, this is how you know that you are getting through, this how you know that no that matter what, that they are watching you and listening to you and what you say and do really does matter.

So let’s get back to my hot friend Adam. I was twenty and still going to Classic Rock concerts and dance concerts like C & C Music Factory and Ace of Base. Bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana were a whole new sound for me. Adam was very influential to everyone in our group and he introduced us to this unconventional passage between the 1980s hard rock-heavy metal and post punk alternative rock. Like him, I became a huge fan of not just Soundgarden but of singer and songwriter, the late, great Chris Cornell.  I equally loved Chris with Audioslave and the song “I am the highway,” has not just had an impact on me it would also be a part of the Soundtrack of my life for so many reasons that would take me years to explain.

The world lost Chris Cornell to Suicide on May 18th, 2017, one month before we lost my late husband Kirk in the same tragic way. I was devastated and didn’t understand. Not only had the world lost an amazing artist, a loving father and husband, so much of my memories of the last twenty or so years would always be tied to a Chris Cornell Lyric. I recall very clearly the night Kirk and I sat in the garage paying tribute to Cornell and really absorbing some of his song lyrics for the first time. Kirk kept saying to me “He was tired, so tired” and clearly he understood on a level that I never truly will. He pointed out the lyrics to Like a Stone which we had sung along to hundreds of times without really considering what we were hearing…

On a cobweb afternoon
In a room full of emptiness
By a freeway I confess
I was lost in the pages
Of a book full of death
Reading how we’ll die alone
And if we’re good, we’ll lay to rest
Anywhere we want to go

Chris poured his heart and his soul and his pain into his lyrics for years. So many of us were comforted  by his words without ever really knowing why.

As much as I have said over the years “You’ve been thunderstruck!” or “I like big butts I cannot lie” I have said “I am not your rolling wheels, I Am the Highway!”

To be perfectly honest I  didn’t know why that lyric resonated so much with me and though I loved it, if you asked me to explain why I would never have been able to come up with an authentic answer that I felt good about.

I knew the lyric meant something to me and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what Chris had meant when he wrote that amazing line.

Today, in a conversation with Morgan where I told her that she was responsible for only herself and her decisions and that she gets to decide who she is that song lyric popped in my head. Ironically Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway was playing at the time and it hit me with such clarity.

I will never know what was in Chris Cornell’s head or heart when he wrote that lyric but I finally know why that song lyric means so much to me.

“I am not your rolling wheels, I am the highway…”

I will never be who you decide I am.

I define who I am.

So simple.

You are in charge of your thoughts, your emotions and your actions. You decide who you are.

“I am not your carpet ride, I am the sky”

In the grand scheme of things this may seem very unimportant but for a woman like me who lives her entire life in song lyrics and movie quotes, and is trying her best to raise young women that are fearless and committed to bringing good to the world, it really means a lot. We are living in precarious times and never has it been more important to be who you truly are without letting anyone else define you.

There are many times throughout my young life that I have allowed myself to be defined by others but when we lost Kirk it was astonishing to me that anyone would have the audacity to try characterize who I was, who my children were and what our relationship was as a couple and as a family to fit their own agenda. I admit that there were days that I just felt lost and I didn’t want to get out of bed. The thing about life is that to live it well, it requires you to show up, even when it is really fucking hard. Nobody is immune to struggle.

There were days I had to remind myself several times a day that I was still me, that I lost Kirk but I didn’t lose me.

I am still the highway.

All day, every damn day.

 

I Am the Highway

Audioslave

Pearls and swine bereft of me
Long and weary my road has been
I was lost in the cities
Alone in the hills
No sorrow or pity for leaving I feel

I am not your rolling wheels
I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride
I am the sky

Friends and liars don’t wait for me
I’ll get on all by myself
I put millions of miles
Under my heels
And still too close to you
I feel

I am not your rolling wheels
I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride
I am the sky

I am not your blowing wind
I am the lightning
I am not your autumn moon
I am the night
The night

I am not your rolling wheels
I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride
I am the sky

I am not your blowing wind
I am the lightning
I am not your autumn moon
I am the night
The night

Songwriters: Brad Wilk / Chris Cornell / Timothy Commerford / Tom Morello

 

The Luxury of Hope

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When high profile celebrities like Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Audioslave, Soundgarden and Temple of the dog fame commit suicide, people take notice and discussions are had and opinions are shared. The contemplation’s we hear over and over is how they had everything and it must have been drugs and how selfish they were to leave their families behind.

People are talking, that is a good thing. People talking out their ass, not so much, but unfortunately we live in the digital age when anyone with a keyboard can share their opinion, most of them have no basis in fact or knowledge of the subject, certainly not compassion, but as mob mentality works, a bunch of people agree and what could have been a healthy discussion surrounding mental health, brain disorders, depression and anxiety has turned into a literal shit show and nobody’s mind has been changed and several people are hurt and pissed off.

There is a large stigma surrounding the topic of suicide and mental health and attempts to have real and intelligent conversations and to create change has never been more challenging. The truth is expansive and sometimes it is OK to sit a subject out and just listen, maybe learn something. Talking is healthy, offering your baseless opinion is not helpful and quite frankly it does not make you a leader or a “voice to be heard” it makes you an asshole.

Chester Bennington was vocal about suffering through child sexual abuse by an older male, he spoke of suicidal thoughts and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He was vocal about the horrors that he encountered in his own head and described the space between his ears as a “bad neighborhood” and how keeping busy by being a husband, a father, a bandmate and a friend was the only was to stay out of that bad place. I watched an interview where he talked candidly about his pain and anguish and the radio DJ that he was talking to was a bit uneasy with Chester’s honest and forthright portrayal of fighting the beasts of depression that plagued him. Chester seemed intent on staying on track as he was discussing his life, his music, his lyrics and the expectations that are placed on celebrities to have these perfect lives. Chris Cornell was fairly vocal about his own struggles as well, perhaps in a quieter way but if you ever sat down and read any of the lyrics that they wrote their pain and struggles are framed in their music forever. I was so choked up after Chris Cornell’s passing and my husband and I read the lyrics to Like a Stone and were overcome with emotion. The music that soothed us for years was the story of someone else’s inner turmoil. Kirk got it on a much different level than me and I finally understand that. I remember one time remarking to Kirk about him having a “depressive episode” and he said, “I don’t think it is a series of episodes, it is just one big one, it is never far away”

In a 1994 Interview with Rolling Stone Chris  was asked if he perceived run-of-the-mill depression as a comfort zone, he replied, “The problem is, no one really knows what run-of-the-mill depression is. You’ll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they’re hanging from a rope. It’s hard to tell the difference. But I do feel that depression can be useful. Sometimes it’s just chemical. It doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. And whenever I’ve been in any kind of depression, I’ve over the years tried to not only imagine what it feels like to not be there, but try to remind myself that I could just wake up the next day and it could be gone because that happens, and not to worry about it. And at the same time, when I’m feeling great, I remember the depression and think about the differences in what I’m feeling and why I would feel that way, and not be reactionary one way or the other. You just have to realize that these are patterns of life and you just go through them.”

Cornell’s suicide made us question whether you can really outrun the beast. Chris had completely changed his life and his lifestyle, he went to rehab, he gave up drugs and alcohol, he fell in love and got remarried, yet as he told Men’s Health Magazine, “For me, I always had one foot in this very dark, lonely, isolated world.”

Is there an escape from that or do you just run and run and run until you get too tired and the demons catch you? They are stronger, faster prey and they are always waiting. In my disbelief and sadness over the death of an idol Kirk kept telling me that “he just got tired babe. He was too tired.” I know now that he knew that feeling all too well. We had talked plenty about going to bed with and waking up with the same ghosts and the impact that has on your body and mind. He too got tired.

These are high profile celebrities so we hear about their suicides. Unfortunately their circumstances are not unique and money and fame is not a cure all. Suicide is happening every single day and it is taking the lives of the people we love.

The brain is so important to every single thing we do in our lives and if something is not firing right in our brain it can  make our lives absolute hell, yet unlike Cancer where we commend those who suffer for their bravery and we applaud their fight as radiation rips through their weakened bodies in an attempt to fight the evil that lives inside of them, and then if they lose the battle we call them heroes, instead; for those that suffer the devastating effects of mental health disorders and lose their battle we call them selfish. Instead of seeing a person that that is brave and fought as long and hard as they could while facing the terrifying destruction of their own self from the inside out; we call them a coward. We call them weak.

Often suicide is not a choice, it is the result. Sometimes suicide is not a careful plan it is a saving grace, a release from the pain. As horrible and tragic as it is we need to stop blaming the victims of these horrible diseases. We need to end the stigma and stop inserting our fears and our bias and calling it truth. The truth is expansive, and the hard truth is that no two people have the exact same reality. Our personal world is constructed by our brains. Our interpretation of the signals we receive create our day to day reality as we interact with people and our environment. No two realities will be exactly the same. Because our brains are different our perceptions will be different. Some mental illnesses have been linked to an abnormal balance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with one another. I cannot stand in judgement of anyone and say for certain what goes on in their brain and I can certainly not begin to imagine what goes on in the brain of someone who suffers a debilitating illness that affects some of the most important organs, systems and functions in their body.

If you choose to sit back as a keyboard warrior, shouting your judgements and baseless accusations you are a SELFISH, WEAK COWARD.  I hope I did not stutter.

When I was in grade 6 I recall being a bit infatuated with Greek Mythology and there was a story about Pandora’s box. As the legend goes in ancient Greece there were two brothers named Epimetheus and Prometheus who upset the gods and upset Zeus who was said to be the most powerful of all gods. To punish the brothers Zeus constructed a woman of clay, having the goddess of Athene breathe life into her, Aphrodite made her beautiful and Hermes taught her to be both charming and deceitful. Zeus called her Pandora and sent her as a gift to Epimetheus.

Epimetheus had been warned about accepting gifts from the gods and though he knew better Pandora was so captivating and beautiful, he was taken by her and agreed to marry her. Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful box as a wedding gift with one stipulation, she was never to open it. Pandora was intrigued by the box but put the key on a high shelf and agreed not to open it. Several times Pandora faltered, her curiosity getting the best of her and she reached onto the high shelf for the key fitting it into the lock only to feel guilty and change her mind at the last second. One day Pandora gave in to her curiosity believing she would go mad if she didn’t open the box. She slid the key into the lock and opened the box slowly, anticipating fine silks, gowns, jewelry or coins. None of these were packed in the box. To her horror, Pandora found that Zeus had packed the box full of every terrible evil he could think of.  Out of the box poured all the evils of humanity; poverty, disease, plague, misery, sadness and death, all shaped like tiny moths stinging Pandora over and over and she slammed the lid shut. Pandora could hear a voice calling from the box, pleading to be let out. Epimetheus finally agreed that there could be no worse horror than had already been released, and he slowly opened the lid once more.

The only thing that remained in that beautiful box of horror was hope and it fluttered out of the box like a beautiful dragonfly, touching the wounds created by the evil creatures and healing them. Though Pandora had released pain and suffering to the world she had also released hope to follow them.

Every single day we encounter the horrors of disease, sickness, poverty, misery, sadness and death. Imagine for one second if you were denied the luxury of hope. That is what mental illness can do to your brain. It can take away your hope! Until you are in a place where you have no hope you cannot in good conscious stand in judgment of someone who has been denied something that you take for granted daily.

 

I have shared this excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt many times and I will continue to share it a million times if that is what it takes.

                                                          THE MAN IN THE ARENA
Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.