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OT: Don Cornelius

“OT” stands for “Off-Topic.” Today’s OT is about the death of Don Cornelius and suicide.

If it’s true that, in the words of country singer Rascal Flatts, “life is a highway,” then it’s also true that we sometimes find ourselves taking detours, and not always by choice.

I’m taking a detour from the theme of travel after awaking this morning to the news that Don Cornelius had apparently committed suicide.

Mr. Cornelius created Soul Train, a half-hour TV show devoted to the popular music of black America.

If you are an African-American of a certain age, Soul Train is one of the cultural mile-markers of your life. It was our American Bandstand and we loved it. Before there was MTV, before there was BET, there was Soul Train.

And a lot of folks of my generation will tell you it was better than all of them.

Saturday morning wasn’t Saturday morning until you turned on the TV to be greeted by that animated, rhythmically chugging locomotive, those high-stepping dancers dressed in their disco best — and above all, the signature Afro hairdo and smooth-as-butter baritone of Don Cornelius himself.

From that moment on, you knew your weekend was “gonna be a stone gas, honey.”

You can ready more about the life of Don Cornelius and his signature show in this USA Today story here.

By now, a lot of people are asking aloud how he could do something like this. He was successful. He was famous. He had money. He was a household name across black America, a man loved and admired by millions.

As if any or all of that could guarantee a happy, pain-free life. It doesn’t.

And if you hurt long enough, badly enough, for whatever reason, you reach a point where you just want the pain to stop…by any means necessary.

I know.

I was 20 years old, failing in college, feeling like I was failing at life in general. I’d done everything I could possibly do to turn things around, but nothing had worked. Every day was just 24 hours of unrelenting misery, sorrow, regret.

Which is how, on a cold December Saturday in San Francisco, when I should’ve been at home watching Soul Train, I was standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, quite ready to jump.

I had both hands on the rail. There was nothing to stop me. Nothing except a single question that popped into my head as I pushed on the handrail:

What if I’m wrong? What if I really haven’t done everything I can possibly do?

When I realized I didn’t have a good answer for that, I walked off the bridge.

Odds are, you know someone who feels their life is running at a low tide that just won’t rise again, who feels they’re alone with their misery, who just wants the pain to stop.

Be the one who watches for signs and signals, the one who listens with empathy and without judging. The one who shows that they give a damn. Be the answer to that question, the answer that says no, you’re wrong, there is still something you can do — and you’re not alone.

You could save a life that way.

Meanwhile, here’s wishing you what the creator of Soul Train used to wish us all, a life of “love, peace…and soul.”

Don Cornelius was 75. Rest in peace.

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