smog&sadess copy

I will forever be grateful to a certain 15-year-old Israeli boy who walked into my classroom one afternoon years ago, twirling a CD on one of his fingers. I’m afraid I’ve long-forgotten the lad’s name, but I’ll never forget the huge favour he did me, albeit unknowingly.


Our CD-twirling friend had just finished his regular classes at the international school located next to the private language institute where I worked in Hilversum, the Netherlands. Although we were about to start the English tutorial, we seemed to be facing a slight dilemma: what to do with the CD.


“I’ve just borrowed it from a friend at school,” he explained. “Shall I put it in there?” He pointed to the CD player at the back of the classroom.


“Sure, why not!” It seemed the natural place indeed.


Equally naturally, only a few minutes into the tutorial, came the next question.


“Can we play the CD while we’re doing the lesson?”


My first instinct was to say no – for fear of my student losing concentration. But then it struck me that this teenager most likely had music blaring in the background in his bedroom while he did his homework. Why not also create a familiar environment for his lesson. I just had two conditions.


“Ok, that’s fine. As long as it’s not playing too loudly, and as long as it doesn’t distract.”


Well. Guess who got completely and utterly distracted!!


The CD was Linkin Park’s ‘Hybrid Theory’. I was mesmerized. I was gobsmacked. I was… completely enthralled! And it wasn’t simply the music. What also grabbed my attention was the singer: he was screaming in tune. Who knew that was even possible! And, most quintessentially, the lyrics; they were pure poetry. Relatively ancient as I was, I was hooked from that moment onwards.


We’re 16 years later. This week Linkin Park lost their beloved lead singer Chester Bennington. Following his death, a deluge of grief has swept through social media. By voicing his pain, Chester gave voice to millions. Hearing his anguish, recognizing themselves in his words, teenagers the world over realized they were not alone. His voice became a literal lifeline. Now losing him to suicide of all things, has made the sadness only more brutal. He saved others, but we couldn’t save him.

I’ve never felt so motivated to pray for a celebrity’s family and friends. I suspect I’m not alone…


That afternoon back in 2001 was also a lesson to me to listen ‘beyond the style’ of music, and truly hear the power, the authenticity, the startling beauty of a song.


Linkin Park is surely one band I am so grateful I haven’t missed.

And Chester Bennington was one raw, beautiful soul I am so glad I had the chance to hear.


RIP dear Chester from an oldie LP fan.



Photo: July 21, 2017; “The ugliness of this morning’s smog somehow matches the sadness of this morning’s news.”


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