On Robin Williams

It’s not often that I comment upon the passing of a celebrity — for the most part, they are people who scratch the outer surface of our lives, never leaving a lasting mark. Robin Williams, for me, and for millions of others, touched our lives in a way that’s profound: he made us laugh.

A Light in the Darkness

[quote float=”right”]If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane. — Robert Frost[/quote]

As you get older, it becomes easier and easier to see all that’s wrong with the world. It becomes easier and easier to be a cynic. Thus, the importance of laughter, of embracing the ridiculous when you see or hear it. To receive it as a gift is wonderful, to be the one who gives that gift is equally great. Shared laughter binds us together, creates a sense of community, pushes the dark, shitty stuff into a far corner for a minute, or an hour, and relieves us of the burdens of everyday life.

What always struck me about Robin’s comedy was that you frequently felt that he was laughing with you at the ridiculousness of the world-at-large. There wasn’t anything mean-spirited or cruel in his humor, merely an observation that existence by its very nature was a joke, and he was letting you in on it. The man’s insight and humor could pull you out of dark places, and it certainly did for me in my teen years when I was very much an outsider with few friends and a family I neither understood nor felt a part of.

Learnings

He lived his life, externally, as a kind, generous, funny person. But looking upon his career, his battles with addiction and sobriety, and even the nature of his performances, there are three things I take knowledge from:

  1. You can have a second act. Regardless of what you do for a living, you can always do something else. Robin began life as a stand-up comic, landed in a goofy TV-series, and went on to do comedies on the big screen. Then, somewhere along the way, he made the jump into dramatic roles, and while some of these were hit-or-miss, the hits were memorable.
     
  2. The act of creation is peppered with failure. This refers to the jokes and to the dramatic roles — not everything is going to be a touchdown. Sometimes your pass gets knocked down at the line of scrimmage, sometimes it falls short. But you pick yourself up and learn from the mistake and keep moving forward. The more you do this, the more passes you complete. (If this football analogy doesn’t work, I’ll learn from that and move on.)
     
  3. Damn the filter! Part of the act of creation involves a willingness to make mistakes — and that means losing the filters of excuses, societal mores, and psychological blocks that prevent you from trying something new.

In his death, there are two things:

  1. The best of us are always gone far too soon. Nothing more needs to be said here.
     
  2. Depression is a motherfucker. Mental health care in this country is not what it should be. There are too many stigmas attached to needing help and even to seeking it. The system and the stigma need changing, badly.

In Summation

I think it’s best that I just leave this with some Walt Whitman, as a bit of an homage to his role in Dead Poets Society:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.