O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN!
I share in the rest of the world’s sentiments tonight, and forever. We lost a true icon today. I am devastated to hear the news of the passing of Robin Williams.
I am probably one of the least qualified people to share my thoughts on this in a relatively public forum. But I wanted to seize the moment when inspiration hit. I just wish the inspiration had arrived under better circumstances.
Any time I hear of a suicide, my heart breaks a little. Is there anything like suicide that could elicit such a range of simultaneous emotions in a person? Devastation, anger, gratefulness (for the time you had together)…
I grew up on Robin Williams. He was in all of my favorite movies and I would even watch Mork & Mindy when I stayed home sick from school. I wanted him to be my genie, my nanny and even though my mom was a science teacher, no one ever got me as excited about science as Robin did when he invented Flubber. (Sorry, Mom).
The mark of a true artist is their ability to bring everyone together, despite their differences. And brought us together, he did. Certainly in life, and unfortunately, in death.
For one of the first times, my Facebook feed didn’t feel like a long stream of news reports from everyone in my life, commenting on a celebrity’s passing, with a short sentence or a sad emoticon. It felt like a big group of friends sitting together, each sharing our favorite memory of a brilliant man who affected all of our lives, in at least a small way, and I couldn’t get enough. What a testament to his character. Reading them was a beautiful, cathartic and heartbreaking experience. Which movie did they most connect with? What’s their favorite quote of his? Who had met him, let me see the pictures. I wanted to cry, but with a smile on my face.
Robin affected everyone on some level, no matter where you were from or how old you were. I was no exception. I also fell under the spell of the captivating man who brightened our days by streaming into our living rooms.
Robin Williams played my favorite character of all, Peter Pan, who, with a quote that is unfortunately fitting tonight, reminds us to always stay playful and be fearless. “To die would be an awfully big adventure!”
The San Francisco comedy community is in serious mourning over the loss of their friend. I moved to San Francisco about five years ago, to study film. The first full written script I read in my first screenwriting class was Dead Poet’s Society. And with that, Robin Williams also became the teacher I wanted and most looked up to. He urged us to “Seize the day, to make our lives extraordinary!” and that “Words and ideas CAN change the world.”
After a couple of years in San Francisco, my own personal demons came calling. I was knocked down by certain events and an indescribable sadness that I didn’t ever think was possible to creep into my usual sunny demeanor. It was the closest thing I could relate to depression, without really knowing how to qualify that. And I stayed down for quite some time. While I was down there, I somehow scraped up the courage to try my hand at stand-up comedy, something I had always wanted to try. Something that all my heroes did.
A lot of people ask me what made me start doing stand-up and they are all surprised when my answer is “sadness.” I needed some joy back in my life and I wanted to try to brighten other peoples’ days even if I couldn’t brighten my own. And Robin once again inspired me with a quote. He said, “Comedy is acting out optimism.” I had lost just about all of my optimism and thought, well maybe if I act it out long enough, it will come back to me. Kind of like how they say you should make yourself smile in the mirror when you are upset, because smiling releases endorphins, even if you’re faking it.
It is very sad that he was taken by the very forces that made me want to laugh again and follow in his footsteps.
I fully sympathize with people who just can’t beat the sadness. When I was in the very pits of personal darkness, there were times it felt like it would just swallow me up whole and there was nothing I could do to stop it. But there will always, always be someone there if you reach out for them. Too many people don’t. I didn’t want to and I didn’t even have the worst of it. I just had all I, personally, could take.
I’ll never forget the time someone reached out to me. It was a guy I barely knew. I had met him on a bus in San Francisco and he went to my school, though I had only talked to him a handful of times, usually just to exchange “Happy Birthdays” or the like. He messaged me out of the blue to say “What’s up.” I answered with the typical, “School, work, exhaustion, etc”. I asked how he was doing and he told me he was thinking about killing himself. The answer was honest and blunt and it shocked me. No one had ever confessed something like that to me, and though we barely knew each other, we talked for over an hour. He wrote about his feelings and uncertainties and loneliness and I tried to counter them the best I could. Sometimes all I could muster was “I hear you.” I hadn’t experienced the full range of marginalization he had, all I could relate to, and feel for, was the pain.
I worried about him for a long time after. I wasn’t sure if I should tell someone, or who. I felt like that responsibility had been wrongly placed in my hands, but I was glad he at least placed it somewhere. That is too much of a burden for one person to bear. And there are lots of people out there who won’t ask you to.
That guy is engaged now. He invited me to his wedding. We still rarely speak, but things are looking up for him. We ended our conversation with the agreement that we could always open that discussion back up, if he needed to.
I’m not saying I played a hand in saving that guy’s life. All I did was listen to him.
But sometimes that’s all it takes.
I know I may get knocked down again myself, but I also know there are people in my life that would hurt far worse than I’m hurting, if I were to leave them without warning.
Please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please PLEASE
talk to someone when you need to. Even if it’s a stranger.
Let’s all be gentle with each other’s hearts. We don’t know what kind of heavy load they’re all hauling.
Whether you’ve entertained millions with your wide range of talent or if you are simply sharing air with 2 people in a coffee shop, YOUR LIFE IS IMPORTANT.
You never know who you will meet or what you will do.
There is someone who has utterly changed my life for the better, who I never would have known, if things had gone according to his plan earlier in life.
There are enough things in the world that will try to cast shadows on you. Don’t extinguish your own light, we need it.
“You are here – life exists, and identity; the powerful play goes on and YOU may contribute a verse.”
On this day especially, I am not just “very sad.” I am “morose.”
Thank you for the lessons and the laughter, Robin.
And to anyone else out there who is battling their own demons, please remember –
“Poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.”