Several days have passed, and I’m thinking the window to write relevantly about this has probably passed. Still, as Emily likes to say, I need to write in order to know what I think. And I’m still thinking about Robin Williams.
As a freshman in high school, I sat on my friend Katelyn’s bedroom floor and watched Dead Poet’s Society for the first time. I’m sure it’s cliche, but that movie reached down into my angsty teenage soul and held on tight. I didn’t identify it at the time but looking back, I see how my desire to teach in a classroom can be traced back, in part, to John Keating: his intellect, his humor, his kindness, his warmth.
A few days ago on NPR, Morning Edition played a clip from that movie (the part when Williams’ character jokes about kids kicking copies of Byron at him). I sat in my car driving to work, and my eyes filled with tears.
I instantly felt guilty.
I’ve heard many stories on NPR lately–Israelis & Palestinians losing their homes and businesses, Iraqi Christian children systematically beheaded, fathers and mothers succumbing to ebola–and I didn’t cry once. It’s not that I cared less, but I somehow felt less.
I am ashamed to admit that, but I suspect I’m not alone. I’m sure some of it stems from our disconnected, entertainment-obsessed American culture, but I think there’s more.
Here at home, I’ve been isolated from war and poverty. I don’t fear terrorists marching through my neighborhood with machetes and IEDs. I don’t know the pain of watching my entire city die of the same disease while the hospital shuts down because no one can help.
Within the past year, two people I worked with took their own lives. They were both parents. They were both wise. They were both teachers, one from a pulpit and one from a classroom. Neither could overcome the darkness that engulfed them.
My sister graduated from high school in May. At the bottom of the program, a small note honored a boy who would have walked across that same stage had he not killed himself a month earlier.
I don’t understand these tragedies at all.
The characters Robin Williams played–John Keating, Patch Adams, Peter Pan, Sean Maguire, the Genie–all epitomized warmth and kindness. I watched them and wished they would jump off the screen and into my own schools, hospitals, and family; I desperately wanted to play those parts myself, in my real, unscripted life.
Robin Williams was really a stranger, but it doesn’t feel that way, because he shared art with us.
When the art someone shares reflects the person I most want to become, and when it lends the world the same laughter and joy and kindness that I too want to give… well, I don’t know. It’s a great loss.
Other people who have said it well:
Thoughts on depression, suicide, and being a Christian. by Nish Wieseth
Remembering The Big-Hearted Comedy of Robin Williams from Pop Culture Happy Hour (This very brief podcast episode is worth the listen.)
My Friend is Depressed. What Should I Do? by my friend Eddie, for RELEVANT Magazine