Monday, August 18, 2014

Robin Williams: A Personal Remembrance


If I get out of work at 6 MST, I get a chance to listen to some of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, their evening news program.  On Monday of last week, I listened and when Robin Williams' death was announced, I did something I rarely do: gasped and put my hand to my mouth in shock. 

I thought it might have been a heart attack or something like that, but as news emerged we found that Williams had taken his own life by hanging, after attempting to slash his wrists.  The nature of his death, to take his own life, seems so at odds with the general idea of Robin Williams: always so up, so happy.

Yet we find that he, like all of us, goes through dark periods, where sometimes one manages to emerge or stumble out of the darkness, or falls into it.  He had projects ahead of him, such as a long-awaited Mrs. Doubtfire sequel, so it wasn't as if he was completely without options financially.  While this is merely my speculation, perhaps the cancellation of his series, The Crazy Ones, did not help his mental and financial state of being.

However, I believe that many suicides build up over time, and that perhaps the most trivial matter may be that trigger to unleash one's grip into total despair.  It saddens me, as it saddens many of his fans, to imagine that someone who brought us so much happiness was himself unable to find something in those desperate and dark moments to make life worth living.

I know people at these times ask, 'Didn't he think about his family?'  Sadly, when people are in the middle of suicides or suicide attempts, two thoughts come over them.  The first is that they are so in despair that their families and/or friends don't come into their mind.  The only focus is in ending whatever ails them, and there is a sort of tunnel vision to where 'ending the pain' becomes the only thing that enters their minds.  The other, and sadder, thought, is that they DO think of their families, but convince themselves that in killing themselves, they are doing their families and friends a favor.

I don't think there isn't one person who has not, in at least one moment of their lives, found themselves in a dark place, where desperate thoughts come in and will not let go.  All of us are fraught with human frailties, and when one finds him/herself in a Dark Night of the Soul, that which opposes them becomes stronger than that which has one hold on. 

Even those who have a faith-based system can find themselves in despair, where death appears to be the only answer.  Sometimes, people pull out: maybe something in them triggers a last-minute bid for life, or perhaps they fail and get the treatment they need, or even find that a situation becomes resolved or have the courage to speak to someone, anyone, to lean on in times of personal upheaval.

Sadly, for whatever reason, Robin Williams did not believe there was someone, and the world has lost a great talent who made us, and will always make us laugh. 

That perhaps is what one should focus on regarding Robin Williams.  All children will treasure his Genie from Aladdin (even though some of his characterizations may go over their heads).  Mrs. Doubtfire will remain among the greatest comedies ever made (Num. 67 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Laughs). 

We also have some underappreciated work by Williams.  A personal favorite is a film not well-remembered today but one that, when I saw it not too long ago, reminded me of how good both he and film was.  It was the movie Awakenings, where he toned done overt humor to be more serious and where he held his own against Robert DeNiro.  While Williams may have won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting, I think that along with Awakenings, his best performance was in Dead Poets Society, where he urged his students to "Seize the Day!"  In what can be only more troubling for future viewers, a major character in DPS kills himself (by hanging, if memory serves correct).

There are two lines of thought that come to me when I think about Robin Williams.  We can focus on the horrors that accompanied his death or focus on the great joy and talent his life created.  I think it would be difficult to not think of both.  Robin Williams made and will make people laugh long after the headlines fade, but we should be conscious of the terrible toll suicide and suicidal thoughts take.  Anyone who believes that killing oneself would either 'free them' or improve the world and those who know them should seek out help immediately.  It could be as small as asking a friend to share a cup of coffee, or counseling via your religious or medical sources.  It might even require hospitalization, but in whatever form I urge people to seek out help.

There was none for Robin Williams, or at least none that could alleviate what turmoil was within him those last few hours.  We should remember how he died, but we should also remember what he gave in his life.


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