Robin Williams - In Memoriam


"You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it." - Robin Williams

I'm having difficulty focusing this morning. The news of Robin Williams' passing has me reeling. This is a bit humbling for me since I usually don't understand why people take the loss of a celeb so hard and so personally. I'll try to dampen that judgement in the future, because for some reason this feels personal.

I have childhood memories of our young family watching Mork & Mindy (which my Mom recalled fondly as well on the phone this morning, along with watching Mrs. Doubtfire again recently with my Mork from Orkyoungest daughter). But so many artists have given us work that has become part of our collective memory. So what is different about Robin Williams? I guess I can only speak for myself, and here is why I think I am feeling this loss so deeply.

First is the lasting beauty and quality of his craft. There are a number of films that just stand out not just as Robin's best but some of the best films ever. My top 100 film list needs some serious updating since I posted it here 2 years ago, but three films will certainly retain their place; Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam and Awakenings. Each film elevates you, bringing you to a place where you can feel like you fight against all odds, against expectations and authority. Each also brings you to a place where you weep because along the journey of our battles, there is not always success and there are moments where it is like beauty gets trampled, like a rose under the heel of a boot. Each ends with a bittersweet feeling of discontent, yet knowing that somehow the battle was not in vain. The world is better for the glimpse that it got of the beauty of using your talents to try and create a better world, through teaching, through the radio or through medicine. I am struck by how similar Robin's story is to these masterpieces. My heart is heavy, the sadness is real, and yet there is a very real gratitude accompanying the sorrow. I am so thankful for the light that Robin blazed into the darkness. Thank you for sharing your gift with us! also don't want to forget the way his work has helped to create so many childhood memories. I was beyond childhood with the arrival of Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and Aladdin, but each was excellent and my children already been touched by Robin Williams work. Beyond that there is also Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King... Great work; that is one reason I am feeling the sting of his loss.

Excellent  art has another dimension than just the work itself. It is also about how that work impacted the person who encountered it. This is part of what makes the loss of Robin Williams so personal. I went through my teen years wanting to be an actor. I was also not immune to the quintessential teenage experience of feeling misunderstood and like an outsider (even when you have lots of great friends). Dead Poets Society became for me a place of understanding when usually I would hide the feelings that I just didn't fit in, or didn't belong. Here was a story where other kids felt like I did and defied the rules (another great contact point for me) in order to forge a sense of unity on the journey to discovering their unique voice and true identity. There was a common bond in distain for a

Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Don't be resigned to that. Break out! - John Keating, Dead Poets Society

system that wished to forge conformity. WALK YOUR OWN WALK! I once used that as a title for a talk that I did with youth. I based on John Keating's (the character Robin played) exercise with his students to break conformity. In the midst of feeling so akin to this ragtag group of really smart, artsy kids, it was the Keating character that actually left the biggest impression on me. Who wouldn't want a teacher like that? Ultimately my time as a misunderstood youth was short. My time as a "Keating", hoping to help youth find their barbaric yawp, look at the world from different perspectives, fight conformity and to seize each moment, Carpe Diem!, is much longer, and I will enter that mission again with a renewed gusto.

Adrian Cronauer left a similar impression on me.  This military DJ from Good Morning Vietnam had a refreshing irreverence and had it been anyone other than Robin on that mic, it just wouldn't have been the same. Also defiant of authority, Adrian tried to touch the lives of people in the midst of an institution that was robbing them of their lives (in this case very literally). He couldn't watch the horror and tragedy unfold and then just sit there and pretend nothing was happening. Robin brought to life two important truths; it is so important to laugh and do not be afraid to speak the truth. All my favourite comedy contains these elements. The best comedy uses humour to bring our guards down so that it can actually shine a light on truths that otherwise we often dont' talk or think about. It helps us to see them in a new light which expands our empathy and ability to see some of the absurdities in the 'sacred' areas of the 'civilized' world. While Keating inspired me to accompany youth on their journey of self-discovery, Cronauer inspired me to speak the truth, even the hard truths, and that you can even do it with a smile and a laugh.

Now comes the hardest part. The final reason why this has been so tough to deal with; depression and suicide. Not Robin Williams. Not someone who seemed to us to be so full of life, fun and vitality. It's like a punch in the gut. You want there to be some kind of cosmic force that could shine a light down on Robin in that moment and share with him the love that we all have for him. Touch his life with the same type of beauty and joy that he touched ours with. It feels desperately unfair. While I believe in a spiritual reality, and in moments where people's lives are touched by the unseen, this will not usually be the case in turning back the crushing tide of depression that so many people are struggling with every day. It is a daily battle with a brutal illness. As Dead Poets also showed us, sometimes not even a Keating in someone's life can help someone escape from the darkness that is chasing them. Let us not forget though, that so many are fighting the fight daily, and winning! Let the loss of Robin Williams remind us to see beyond the masks. Can we be that safe place where people can express the things they have buried deep and can we share our authentic selves in return? Don't misunderstand me, I am certain that Robin Williams had people like that in his life. Robin is a casualty of an illness, coupled with addiction (they so often come together). For many years he valiantly fought the good fight, but for every  victory someone is able to win against depression and mental illness, suicide only has to win once, and it's over.

Genie.jpgMy amazing wife changed her profile picture last night to the Genie, Goofy hat on, ready to live his new life after he is set free. Our hope and prayer is that Robin's spark is free now too...

My other hope is that this can be a rallying cry for how we live with one another. While having a friend won't guarantee victory over depression, if we can live in a way that seeks to have our genuine selves touching the lives of genuine others we will go a long way to knocking depression on its ass!


I love this image from Dead Poets Society. I made it my cover photo. That is strange in a way because Robin Williams isn't in it. But it is a moment where the boys in Keating's class choose to stand with him, stand for him, united with him. "O Captain, My Captain"... we are in this fight together. I want this image to stand as a reminder to stand together in the battle against depression and mental illness. There is an opportunity to stand with Robin Williams even now. Oh Captain, My Captain...

Too take our last little bit of inspiration right from the mouth of Robin Williams, "No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world."



I just watched this clip and

I just watched this clip and it says so much about this battle that we fight together. Caring for one another, loving one another...

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