Yesterday, as I was sitting and reading and enjoying my dinner and occasionally looking up to see college football scores, I happened to hear a song that I have not heard for a while on the radio, though it is one of the songs by the band in question that I seek out the most. The song was “Shadow Of The Day,” by Linkin Park, one of the hits off of their successful album “Minutes To Midnight,” and certainly one of my favorite that the band ever made. In listening to the song, I was reminded of several things simultaneously, and it was a poignant moment that I thought I should share. Although I would never consider Linkin Park to be even close to my favorite group, a lot of people I grew up with identified strongly with their music and unlike most of their peers they were able to survive the collapse of Nu Metal music because they had a strong emotional core to their music that was based largely around the relatability of lead singer Chester Benningfield.
Of course, it should be noted that like all too many people involved in show business, Chester Benningfield died way too soon of self-destruction and despair. Yet I am not of the belief that he should be blamed for this. It is easy to think that famous people have it easy and that it was only due to some sort of gross moral weakness that Benningfield died, and to look down on those who succumb to self-destruction. Yet as someone who has had to fight against the pull of self-destruction myself, I have compassion on those who have faced the same darkness less successfully. Benningfield battled those demons for a long time, and this particular song is evidence of it, particularly in the pre-chorus when he sings “Sometimes beginnings aren’t so simple. / Sometimes goodbye’s the only way,” before moving into the chorus with its celebration of the world of gray, which has typically been associated with depression and mental health struggles in general. In listening to this song, I could not help but think of how it foreshadowed the fate of the singer and songwriter who was, even then perhaps, struggling with the feeling that sometimes goodbye was the only way to the struggles and difficulties of life.
Recently I have done a lot of reading about the survivors of both the gulag system of the Soviet Union as well as the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. In the course of that reading, I came across an essay by the late Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel that commented on the death of his friend and fellow author Primo Levi from suicide in the 1980’s, and on how no one should feel triumphant about his demise given the darkness he struggled against as a result of his experience in World War II. Elie Wiesel stared into that pit of darkness just like Primo Levi and other survivors did, and few who stared into that abyss as a result of their suffering in the concentration camps survived without deep psychic wounds as a result. It should be noted that Chester Benningfield himself suffered from child abuse  and wrestled with its consequences. Whenever anyone has to face the abyss as a result of being abused and degraded by others, a bit of the kingdom of darkness makes themselves at home in the heart and mind of the person, forcing the person (quite against whatever will or inclination they have) to wrestle with the powers of darkness and evil within. People choose to wrestle against that darkness in different ways. Some people seek to drown their horror in self-medication with drugs and alcohol to attempt to forget about it for a while. Others become outspoken in their writings about the wrongs they have suffered and have been activists for causes of other like victims in similar situations to their own. Some are able to endure the presence of the abyss within them, and some are not, and those of us who survive should not be quick to glory over those who are unable to overcome the darkness they are forced to endure.
The music video to the song is also an interesting one, in that it features the lead singer wandering through a city that is in great turmoil between would-be revolutionaries and the coercive power of the police. The video does not reveal why the people are fighting or what the cause of the uproar is, but they do reveal that the shadow of the day is not merely a personal shadow but is a larger one as well. This dynamic between the brokenness of people and the brokenness of the world at large was one that came up surprisingly often in Linkin Park’s work. While their early work focused more on the personally suffering from abusive and dysfunctional relationships, as the band aged and became more reflective, more and more music explored the connection between individual brokenness and the state of the world at large. “What I’ve Done” expresses the desire of someone who is distraught over the awareness of his (or her) wicked deeds for forgiveness and a wiping away of who they once were into oblivion, set to a video that looks at a world that is broken and full of great evils. And “The Catalyst” ties together the broken people individually with their collective brokenness and the threat of judgment they stand under for their sins . We often find ourselves in a difficult bind, knowing that if the world was less broken, we would be less broken, but also recognizing that we have some share of the blame for the state of the world through our own behavior and through our effects on the world around us.
How do we separate out the question of justice between how much of the darkness that we cause in the lives of others is our own fault and how much is the responsibility of others. If we do not intend to cause harm but end up inflicting a great amount of fear and anxiety on those whose difficulties in life have predisposed them to feel terror and anxiety because of the behavior of others, how much of the fault is our own? If we are not to be blamed for suffering abuse because it was inflicted at the hands of others who were themselves the survivors of abuse, where does the responsibility lie? How many layers of turtles do we go down in trying to assess the proper proportion of blame? Even if we leave matters of ultimate judgment in the hand of others, how do we fairly assess ourselves and our own lives, and our own desires to rise above the darkness that we have known? If we judge ourselves as innocent and blameless, we blithely go about adding our share of darkness to a world that has more than enough, but if we judge ourselves too harshly and give in to despair as a result, we give victories to those corrupt and evil beings who rejoice in the torment and suffering and destruction of those created in the image and likeness of our eternal Father. One can feel Chester Benningfield struggle with this question as best as he can in the songs of his band Linkin Park, and if the darkness was too much for him to overcome, one can give him credit for the nobility and strength of his struggle, and for those who have had to struggle like him against the abyss present within their own minds and hearts.
 See, for example: