Everyone who knew Noah loved him, and everyone who heard his music was awestruck, but somehow he just never could believe he was enough. He lived with deep seated shame that started as a deeply sensitive child who desperately needed a community of compassionate, honest, protective role models. He was deeply wounded by cruelty and rejection, and later this moved into shame over what he felt he needed to do just to cope in a petty and unkind world. Noah had a mountain of sadness, anger, and confusion to climb to make his way from what was a unnecessarily difficult childhood to life as a grounded and whole grown man. You can hear this dilemma in his prophetic lyrics. I believe that if Noah had been able to win his battle with trauma related mental illness and addiction he would have gone on to create the anthems for his generation. He sang of a collective despair especially felt by the young of our society that springs from our disconnected and narcissistic culture.
Every human needs to feel special, to feel that he or she belongs, that they are seen, appreciated, and are honored by others. But so many of us don't. In our huge anonymous schools and conformist youth culture, in our adult world of fame and wealth, social climbing, competition and winning seem to be the only means of finding what we need. We have lost our way.
Love and compassion are the way - the antithesis of what he saw all around him. How often do we place people before money, a helping hand before blame, caring ahead of winning, others ahead of self?
Noah’s true nature was one of extreme sensitivity. He was easily and deeply wounded; he cried when others were cruel. Noah was very smart, resourceful, and determined. As he grew, he built a new and tougher personality: a personality of cool, of recklessness, and living on the edge. He built stubborn walls to protect his fragile inner self. He constructed a defensive, brittle confidence. He made friends; he got drunk; he drove too fast, he fought, he wrote songs, he loved.
What Noah really wanted, more than anything else, was closeness. He wanted to be a musician so he could speak for the voiceless — the vulnerable, the children, the wounded and broken. How ironic; how typical: His own walls kept him apart from the closeness he craved. Ever determined, he worked hard on understanding what he was doing wrong, how he could be a better person, a better friend, a better son, a better brother. And I think he was really beginning to get it.
Drugs and alcohol sabotaged all that: seductive and deadly. The drugs that brought down the walls that helped him feel close - as long as he was high, until those same drugs circled back and hollowed out his heart.
The night Noah died he called me by accident intending to call his roommate and best friend in Portland, Oregon, the place he moved a few months ago with the intentions of getting a fresh start. He had just finished a night of street performing that ended after the bars empty out. He sounded fine during the less than two minute conversation, that ended by my telling him to be careful and that I loved him. His last words to me were “I love you too, mom.” Thank you God for giving me that. He was gone a few hours later.
Alcohol brought down those prefabricated walls, and all that was left was the pursuit to stay far outside of himself. Noah had plans and goals and he knew how much we loved him. In the dark times our love was all that was keeping him alive. I was willing to take it so long as it gave us another day. I hoped that he’d be able to link enough days together to start seeing what the rest of us saw. I believe he was starting to do that, but Noah was an addict who wanted to pretend he was “normal.” After being drug and alcohol free for nine months, Noah started drinking again, and the thing with Noah was that once he started he couldn’t stop until he ran out or passed out, and when drunk he had no capacity to turn down other drugs, and then to do them until they were gone. In all the years that we were finding evidence of alcohol and drug use we never found a single bag, bottle, can, or syringe that wasn’t empty. I don’t know when he went from being a little boy who saved his favorite Halloween candy for last, and bought special things with the allowance he saved, but it seems that when the addiction switch was turned on, all sense of moderation and delayed gratification was shut off. If I was ever unsure if addiction was a disease or not, Noah has answered that question for me. An addict like Noah does have a choice one time, but after that he had no choice. He didn’t want to use, but he couldn’t shut the part of his brain off that was screaming for relief, and lying to him about how it would be different this time.
Like a lot of people, Noah used alcohol and drugs this way because he needed to escape his own false personality. He wanted to be the best, to be cool, to be popular and successful. Underneath, it's all about the same old human needs: to feel valued, to feel important and special, to belong, to be loved.
Lectures and platitudes to the young will never change our society. We must all be the agents of change. Our society, as it gets bigger and more global, must evolve just as our species has evolved. Each of us, at work in the office, at home, at school, in our families, and in our communities, must honor and value each person we encounter. How would your day be if, instead of trying to be right, you were trying to help?
In the media, we must pay homage to the ordinary hero: not the superstar, but the man who goes to work and loves his kids, the person of integrity who has the courage of his convictions. The culture where children are left to run amok with misguided values, churning out young men and women who believe that social status is the measure of their worth is shallow and ultimately destructive. It is more than destructive; it is brutal, a de-evolution of humanity.
Now Noah, finally, is at rest, and I hold him close within me. Please hold him close, as I do, in your mind and your spirit. Remember the meaning of this tragedy. If a young man or woman drinks too much, say something. It's not a game; it's a symptom. And let us find and encourage within ourselves, within our society, those gifts that make each of us special: not star power, not intellectual prowess, but the ineffable mystery and extraordinary beauty of the simple human heart.