It’s been 8 weeks since Chris Cornell’s passing. He left us just 2 weeks before my 39th birthday. As someone who passed their teen years listening to grunge and alternative rock with their sister and high school friends: this loss felt especially big. Still does.
A number of important articles have been written before and following Cornell’s death, on mental health and substance and prescription drug abuse in America which are worth a read. As someone who has worked in public health, including mental health, for 10+ years, I do hope that the country is steering itself in the right direction on supporting some of our most vulnerable populations.
In this post, I want to express here one *truth* that Cornell faced which resonates with me deeply: Cornell’s mental well-being aside, the root of his suffering was real. Sure, Cornell battled with depression and anxiety, and ultimately lost to the demons inside his head. But I believe he didn’t only battle internal demons, or that we can simply reduce his death to his losing to them. There was always a bigger lesson for us to learn from Cornell’s music. For one, sometimes life just hurts; and for some of us, we cannot and ought not shake this pain. And Cornell undoubtedly experienced and empathized with others’ pain and suffering, as it exists in this world we all live in. A world which he reminds us we all share: a connectedness that defines our responsibility towards each other. This, expressed most profoundly in his last solo album, Higher Truth.
I’m talking about the 10 year-old in Wrong Side, whose father worked and died in the mines after being trapped for 20 days. The kid never recovers from this loss and navigates the world alone, lost, troubled, and encounters trouble throughout his adult years.
These lyrics are the product of Cornell’s beautiful mind. For Cornell, it is society’s demons that we’ve come to accept and perpetuate. That a kid navigates the world “alone but free” at age 10: does the world really not know he might need help and support? I think we know. Our society has simply failed on kids like this one.
Cornell then shows us how we, individually, can break our cycle of failing to meet each other: in Through the Window, Cornell describes the common, but deep, suffering of people we encounter on a day-to-day basis. His eyes follow a fellow train passenger, as he imagines the deep emotional pain s/he lives with and is experiencing. In so doing, Cornell shows us the practice of empathy.
In Our Time In the Universe, Cornell expresses how we ought to be celebrating and experiencing our life: expansively. And this might be the hardest thing Cornell asks us to practice – to go beyond our immediate reach, our immediate consciousness. To go and trust our inner voice, our intuition, as he sings, “maybe you and I one day will finally choose the higher truth.” For Cornell, our time in this life is not simply what we can see, feel, touch, hear, or know. Though we may not know what it is, we absolutely have a responsibility to hold this Higher Truth.
And we must begin the hard work of listening more deeply to each other, our inner voice, or however and from wherever the call comes, to keep Cornell’s Promise. By living compassionately and expansively, we might begin to care for the kid who has found himself on the Wrong Side, and others who we pass by every day, whether on a train, on the street, at the store. We all live through pain, and all have responsibility to each other to help alleviate each’s suffering.
And this ability to sit with empathy, hold compassion and live with an expanded consciousness, I hope, is the lesson we all learn and remember our beloved Chris Cornell by. May we all celebrate Our Time in the Universe by bringing more joy and happiness to each other. As Cornell shows us through the years, we must do so even if practicing empathy and compassion pains us. The Higher Truth – that which is outside ourselves – is that we are all connected, under this ever expansive universe. This universe that we call home, for now.
And while Chris Cornell is no longer with us on Earth, he lives on, among the stars with us in the universe. Thank you for watching over us, from above. You’ll be missed, but you won’t be forgotten.