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Smiling through Suicide, Uncle Mike and Mike Love

A Full-Circle Tangents Blog on 2 Mikes and a Chris

 

Chris Cornell plays in the background as I write this. His lyrical talents impress, his guitar work always on point and his voice wavering between the soulful screams of the Soundgarden era and the subtle trilling he lost a little over time as his incredible voice faded a touch with age.  He’s gone now at his own hand.  Always a gut punch.  I remember the Temple of the Dog album fondly from the Grunge era and listen to the album frequently and not surprisingly even that album was forged from loss. #MotherLoveBone

Suicide has been thrown in my face recently in some really sad ways and some really uplifting ways and thankfully in ways providing important perspective.  I never get angry with those who’ve chosen to commit suicide.  I don’t think I can understand the mindset of anyone that would choose to take their own life.  With some confidence I can assume their ultimate decision wasn’t made in a moment of sound judgment and that their suffering overwhelming.  Depression is dark place. Sorrow is all I can feel, instead of the anger that seems to be the common gut response. Just sorrow.  Sorrow because I wish I would’ve known, wish I could’ve done something to intervene to provide even only a dim light in dark tunnel that envelopes everything. Therein lies the challenge with depression and suicidal thoughts. The suffering is often hidden from us and we don’t see the ultimate evidence of the suffering until it serves only in opening our eyes to the interventions we might take with the remaining souls who surely still suffer around us.

We feel like as a community that we have failed when a suicide happens and in a sense we have but suffering is a shy creature.  All we can do in the aftermath is pick up the pieces and move forward within this “new normal” and try to be more attentive to the suffering that is surely flying under the radar.  My own community  has recently lost two men – Sam and Rob – and I wish this wasn’t the new normal but it is and I we’re looking out for each other now – it’s an odd way to honor their departure and yet it’s all we really have. All I can manage is a resigned smile.

Tangent: I was in southern New Mexico last week to be a dim light for a community suffering through the impact of a teen suicide.  Suffering is maybe an understatement and the word crippling might be a more adequate description.  Uncle Mike, the Assistant Principal, deserves the honorary title of “Uncle” taught to me in Hawaii. Uncle Mike had called a “time out” for his staff and students. They needed a break even with finals looming one week later.  I wasn’t there to talk about suicide – only to provide and my “happiness toolbox” and the distraction of comic relief to get students focused on the positives of what the future offered.  The afternoon “assembly” style presentation for about 600 students made me smile – I loved being back on a campus after being a middle school teacher even in those circumstances.  I had something of value to offer and the hugs and high-fives I asked for and received after the assembly were touching and a reminder of type of interactions that provide me fulfillment.

Earlier that morning included an equally remarkable hour of my life.  I spoke with the entire staff so I could hear what they were feeling, hearing from the students and to get the staff’s guidance on how my content could be tweaked to serve the students.  As an outsider to their team I didn’t know what to expect s- o what happened next was surprising. The staff shared so many powerful insights while being vulnerable and supportive of each other throughout.  Tough times for teachers for certain but it felt…

REALLY GOOD

Raw and real and full of pain.  Suffering is an authentic human expression and we hide it too much. Uncle Mike created an environment where it was ok to be “not ok”. Thank you, Uncle Mike, that gift to your staff will pay dividends for your school, your students and your community.  You’re in the right place at the right time Uncle.

Tangent:  A favorite musician from my time in Hawaii is also a personal hero: Mike Love.  Mike has dreadlocks literally down to his ass and his music is hard to describe but includes looping and some reggae influence. His strong and positive messages are coupled with his outstanding voice that serves in the additional role as an instrument.  I had the chance to see Mike Love at the end of  my trip from New Mexico back to Colorado and I needed the lift.  Coincidentally, on the same day a former “special lady friend” from Hawaii was snorkeling around Kaneohe Bay again for the first time in a few years after she had moved away. Nostalgia in full effect.

Coincidence is a funny thing.

Being on stage is powerful thing.

Performing is a rush. A rush performers often look to keep riding when they walk of stage with alcohol and sometimes drugs that are more powerful than human will (Exhibit A: Mother Love Bone, Exhibit B: Blind Melon, Exhibit C….well, you get the point).  This rush from performing often elicits a  flow state for the performer where they (me too!) feel focused, happy and even lose track of time.  You can see flow in Mike’s performances. He is fully engaged happy and focused and honestly he needs to be focused because his looping requires operating pedals of all sorts to create the complexity of his “looped” music.

Mike Love does more than make music.  He often offers short “preaches” from the microphone and some of his songs about veganism cause great discomfort for someone like me who consumes meat. And his song on war always hits home hard. Discomfort is an opportunity for growth. Fine. However, the rest of this messages are usually about love and unity something larger than our selves.  We need these messages all day, every day.

Full-Circle:  Coincidence is a funny thing.  On the day a friend snorkeled on Kaneohe Bay and Mike Love shared his gifts Facebook popped up a “memory”. The memory was a stunning tribute by none other than Mike Love in honor of Chris Cornell posted shortly after the time of Chris’ suicide.  Mike Love, dreadlocks down to his ass, turns out to be a Soundgarden fan (!!!) and retells a story of Soundgarden breaking up on stage during a show he attendee in Honolulu. Give it a watch and listen to Mike’s cover of “Seasons.”

The grass just isn’t always greener. Rockstar status for a band like Soundgarden doesn’t exempt them from inter-personal turmoil we see everyday in politics, workplaces, communities and households. The incredible Shep Gordon being a great example of wanting the simple life when he had everything else.  And we can “have it all” and choose to take our own life regardless.  All I can do is shake my head, shed a tear and be grateful for the awareness.

What’s there to do for those who are gone? I don’t know.  I’ll pet my dogs and rub their ears extra hard tonight, appreciate my next breath and hope to be there for someone who suffers in silence when the time comes. I am not a therapist but I am here. Just ask.

From the song “Seasons” by Chris Cornell:

“Sleeping with a full moon blanket
Sand and feathers for my head
Dreams have never been the answer
And dreams have never made my bed
Dreams have never made my bed

And I’m lost, behind
The words I’ll never find
And I’m left behind
As seasons roll on by…”

The words he’ll never find? What? I’m pretty sure he found them. Thank you Chris, I’m sorry you’re gone.

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Connection is so important and that’s what I bring to the stage.  Tools to reconnect, to reengage with those around us with our work and our passions.  We’ll also enjoy the power of laughter together – I pinky swear it.  I’d be honored to bring this to your event.

Anthony Poponi is a comic, improv artist, brain chemistry nerd and community-minded advocate and owner of Humore.us in Colorado. He’s brings his love of connection and laughter to audiences as keynote, emcee, workshop host or moderator and his mission is to increase laughter and connectivity to combat the human health crises of isolation and disconnection.