In the car on my way home from New Hampshire tonight, I finally had a chance to listen to the first pre-released three songs from Ruston Kelly’s new album (releasing later this month), “Shape and Destroy”. The second song hit me right in the gut. It was the first song that he played live at his first appearance at The Ryman at the beginning of March 2020 when you could still go hear live music with a room packed with people. It’s a song called “Brave”. (*His Ryman performance video is at the end of the post)
His songwriting goes right to my heart. I feel his lyrics on a very personal level. I feel like we have shared the same depth and breadth of sadness. When he sings, I can feel in my heart, the pain in his voice. These are HIS songs, about HIS life, HIS heartbreak, HIS drug addiction and now (sadly and as of just a few days ago) HIS divorce from singer Kacey Musgraves. Minus the addiction piece (though addiction arguably comes in so many forms and is not necessarily substance abuse), my pal Ruston and I have seen some of the same shit. The kind of shit that brings you to your knees. We have felt that same kind of decimating pain. The kind of pain that wraps its hands around your neck and makes you wish, no, PRAY that maybe you’ll just wake up dead in the morning and be done with this whole brutal thing that life can be. The kind of pain that walks you to the edge of that big black hole that some people jump in and never return from, and begs you to fall in, all the while listing all of the reasons that you’re not good enough and reading off every mistake that you have made from the day that you were born. Thankfully, we’ve just stood at the edge of that black hole and either walked away on our own accord or followed someone that loved us, away from the precipice.
Pain can be a gift. I know, sounds weird. It’s not the kind of gift that you wish for your family and friends to have. Not the kind of gift that you make for someone else. Pain can be a gift to you. It sucks ass while you’re RECEIVING this gift, but once you have it, it’s probably the best thing you’ve ever received. Because once you have real pain on your emotional coffee table, you are never able to walk through the world in the same way. You are never able to look away from that pain when you recognize it in someone else. When you see that same kind of pain in another person, you just want to go to them and hold them and say “me too”. You want to do whatever you can to help that person and you want to take their hand and show them the way-the way away from the edge of that black hole. Pain makes you a better person, if you face it head on, manage to stay in the game and stumble through the work you have to do to turn into your gift. Pain, if worked through, tethers you to the rest of the world and makes you a vessel of healing to everyone you meet.
A trip to the edge and back also gives you insight on the amount of pain that people are in when they do NOT walk back from the edge. To be that hopeless to that degree and to be in that amount of agony is suddenly imaginable. I don’t suggest jumping in the hole, but I understand it.
So, when I heard Ruston’s line in the first verse, “Who am I and how will I be remembered when I die?” I thought about how I want to be remembered when I go. Most obituaries and eulogies highlight someone’s achievements, successes and the story of how they attained their dreams. They play the highlight reel. I guess I want some of that. But please, when I leave this earth, don’t you dare write or speak one single word about my life if you are not going to mention pain. If you do not intend to mention the darkest moments of my life, then do not utter a syllable about the best of moments. They go hand in hand. My life loses so much meaning if you don’t speak of the pain that shaped me a better person. My purpose here loses it’s significance when you paint my life as sunshine and unicorns so don’t you dare minimize or wipe away my pain. Make my pain a gift to other people. Let them know I struggled. Let them know that I suffered in silence for a long time. Let people know that there were times in my life when I didn’t want to be here on earth anymore. And let them know that I fought back from the edge. Let them know that I was propped up by the people that loved me, even when I had shut them out. Let people know that I stood on the edge of the black hole and that I lived to tell about it. I took pain and turned it into a beautiful golden cup that I offered up to anyone who is thirsty and weak from their journey to, or toward, the edge. Pain shaped my life in such a way that it would be a shame to bring it to the grave with me and it’s a gift that I want to share, even on my way out.
**If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. 1-800-273-8255**