What can we learn from Cory Monteith and Finn Hudson?

In mid-July, America (and I’m assuming much of the world outside of it) was rocked with the tragic news of Cory Monteith’s death. As a lead actor for the hit show Glee, he was a pop culture icon. As his role on Glee decreased, his mark on filmmaking increased. He had several indy films under his belt. He was head-over-heels in love with his Glee co-star, Lea Michele, and was a poster boy for a successful life after drug addiction.

Perhaps that’s why it was so sad that his death was caused by a drug overdose.

While researching the possibilities of starting an eating disorder support group in Kansas City, I attended several AA meetings to get a feel for their system. A meeting attendee once said to me upon realizing why I was there, “You know, my addiction seems simple. I don’t need alcohol to survive. Yours, that takes balls to conquer because you NEED food.” I had never thought about my bulimia as an addiction before, and suddenly I began to see substance addictions in a new light.

Where I was once judgmental of drug addiction and relapse, I now understand it a bit better. I realize I can’t harbor resentment for these addicts. They deserve the same empathy that I offer to fellow bulimics and others impacted by eating disorders.

Cory Monteith’s recovery, and the fulfilling life he was living in that recovered state, was an inspiration to me. Here he was, this kid who had a serious problem. He got his life together and achieved his dreams of being an actor. Cory didn’t even know he could sing until Glee, but he was completely unafraid of confronting a new challenge.

Cory taught us that any challenge can be overcome to lead a courageous life. How he died also told the story of how inherently human we are. Each one of us is broken in one way or another, none of us are perfect, and even the strongest people give into weakness at times.

Sometimes I find myself wondering why I care so much that a person I never met, who played a fictional character, would impact me so much. But, really, it’s no different that being upset when a book character died. (SPOILER ALERT: Dumbledore died, and if you cry for three days afterward, your friends and family will try their best to be understanding.) Cory was an inspiration, it’s only natural for people to be invested. And Finn Hudson, Cory’s character on Glee, had just as many great lessons to share with us. (There will be spoilers here. If you aren’t completely up to date with Glee, I’m sorry.)

  • Never give up. Finn’s life got downright chaotic at a few different points. He could have given up on the New Directions, and he didn’t. He could have given up on balancing the glee club and football. When things got hard with Rachel, he never gave up on her. Even when he broke their engagement, he maintained a certain level of commitment.
  • You can always recover. Finn’s life took some really nasty turns. When he found out his dad wasn’t the war hero he’d thought, he turned it into a positive lesson. When he got kicked out of the military, he found his way home and started pulling his life together. When he royally screwed up his relationship with Mr. Schu, he fought for reconciliation and they came back to it better than before.
  • People matter. Finn was always a little dysfunctional, and that’s why I liked him. But even in the midst of his dramatic teenage existence, he always seemed able to feel empathy and put people first. His loyalty to the glee club in the face of adversity and bullying was awesome. And, he stood up for those he loved. (Granted, his hotel room brawl with Rachel’s shady college boyfriend was probably not the best…)
  • Be positive. Finn had a great heart and the absolute best intentions. Did he screw up a lot? Yes. But he always managed to find his way back to the positivity. Then he’d channel his energy into improving the lives of people around him, especially those he cared most about.

Finn might have been my favorite character on Glee. It’s not because his singing was the best or his dance moves the most impressive. It was because he was just so dang human. And despite his flaws and his knack for screwing things up, he was a pretty dang good human. And that parallels so much of what made Cory a truly great person, as well. Both of them personified the indomitable human spirit, the ability to persevere and reach for something better in life.

Both were kind spirits with emotional baggage and an ability to bounce back.

Am I sorrowful that Cory was taken from this world by drugs? Yes. But I forgive him. I don’t chalk him up as a villain. I chalk him up as someone who fell to a human weakness that some people may never, ever understand. But tonight, as I watch the episode commemorating Cory’s life, I will be crying for both Cory and Finn. I’ll be mourning two kind souls who had much love, optimism, and inspiration to offer this world. I’ll be feeling for a fallen comrade-in-arms in the battle against addictions.


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