Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Randall Blythe’s Mission

In the heat of a 2010 heavy metal concert in Prague, 19-year-old fan Daniel Nosek rushed the band and was shoved backward off the stage. He fell on his head and died. A jury found that D. Randall Blythe, singer for the American band Lamb of God, had pushed him, although the concert promoters and security were held criminally liable. Blythe was acquitted this past March, and on his blog recently he unloaded his emotional reaction to the experience in a post titled “Be Carefully.”

The trial had a profound effect on Blythe, now 42, largely because of a gift of grace from the victim’s family. “The family of Daniel Nosek never… wished me ill, either publicly or privately,” Blythe wrote in gratitude, and “they didn’t want anything from me in that courtroom except for me to understand how this had affected them... It was one of the most amazing displays of strength and dignity I have ever witnessed.” For that, Blythe said, “I am eternally grateful to them… I know what it feels like to hold my dead child in my arms [Blythe’s only daughter died within hours of being born]. The emotions one goes through are absolutely indescribable.”

When the verdict was read and Blythe was exonerated, he was overwhelmed and paralyzed with relief, disbelief, sadness. “A fan of my band was dead, and a family had been shattered... I did not know what to do or where to go.” At their request, Blythe met privately with the mother and uncle:

I cannot tell you what it is like to look into the eyes of a mother whose son is dead as a result of attending a concert by your group, his favorite band. I cannot tell you what it is like to hold her tiny hands as she weeps for her dead boy; to hold those hands in your large hands, the same hands accused of killing her son. I cannot tell you in any words what it’s like to feel that grief for her lost only child pouring off of her small frame in a massive dark wave of sorrow, to see that pain again in another, so visceral that your body shakes with the awful power and totality of it.

“As we sat on a couch crying,” Blythe continued, “the first tears I had allowed myself since my arrest, Daniel’s mother asked me if one day I would play a song for him somewhere. I was astounded by the grace with which she asked me this. Her small request was an immense gift to me, a man who was trying to figure out how he would continue to do the only thing he knew how to do after so many years.”

The uncle urged Blythe to use his power as the band’s front man “to be a spokesperson for safer shows. You have that power. Good luck, man. Go live your life.” Blythe promised that he would, and that he would sing many songs for Daniel. “And so they left me, to return to their town to try and rebuild their lives the best they could. I walked into the apartment and continued to fall apart. I don’t remember how long I cried, or what happened over the next two or three hours. But I remembered their words.”

Blythe finished his blog post with a passionate plea for stricter security from concert promoters and more careful behavior from concertgoers, who get caught up in the violent abandon of heavy metal mosh pits and stage diving. Have fun, he encouraged them, but be aware of how fragile life is, and how irrevocable tragedy can strike in a moment.

In the 1986 film The Mission, a Jesuit priest enters the South American jungle to bring Christianity to the Guaraní Indians. Accompanying him is Robert DeNiro, a mercenary and slaver who is tortured by his ruthless past and by the murder of his own brother in a fit of jealous rage. DeNiro seeks penance by dragging the burden of his former self – a huge bag full of his armor and weaponry tied to his neck – up the mountainside to the Guaraní village where he collapses, broken and guilt-ridden. To the accompaniment of famed composer Ennio Morricone’s powerful musical theme, an Indian severs the rope and shoves the bag off a cliff, freeing his former enemy – and the village as well – from the ugly burden of DeNiro’s past sins. He is forgiven and redeemed.

Daniel Nosek’s mother and uncle somehow found the strength to at least partially unburden themselves and the devastated Blythe by forgiveness. Without that gift, all might simply have imploded under the weight of unbearable grief. Instead, forgiveness enabled them all to move forward with their lives and empowered the singer with a mission of his own – to do everything in his power to prevent another death like Daniel’s.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 5/31/13