Saying goodbye to Robin Williams.

I didn’t mourn my childhood when I left it.

This hadn’t occurred to me until the death of Robin Williams. I left my childhood behind with the same vigor with which I had participated in it. I did not grieve for my innocence. I did not weep for my loss of wonder and lack of skepticism. Rather, I bounded over such simplicity for independence and freedom and the great, wide world in front of me.

Now, it feels very empty in this great, wide world of mine. Now, I wish desperately to return to a time when my universe was small, before I knew the sting of loss or the definition of words like “suicide” or “depression” or “hopelessness.”

I did not know Robin Williams personally – let me begin by making that clear. And yet, as so many of us have commented over these past days, we did know him or, at the very least, we felt as if we did. I cannot speak for other generations, but for those of us who were children in the 1990’s, he was the voice of our very childhood. He was the genie who made us believe in magic, the mad scientist who made us believe in the possibility within the impossible, the man who just wanted things to go back to the way they were. He was the good father, the dreamer, the man who would do anything for those he loved.

This, friends, is what I can’t shake.

I won’t write about depression. There are those far more qualified than I who have taken this tragic event and started a very important conversation about how we need to be more compassionate to our fellows, about how we need to educate ourselves about mental illness and become comfortable talking about it. We need to remove the stigmas. We need to breathe empathy into this world.

These last weeks have been hard to bear. Genocide, war, famine, and countless other atrocities cover the newstape end to end. And yet,  here I sit weeping over the death of a comedian. Here I sit weeping over the irony of the fact that a man who brought so much joy and laughter to the world was unable to bring any to himself. His cup overflowed with the capacity to give laughter and yet, it seems, his brain would not let him partake.

I will grieve for Robin Williams. I will grieve for my childhood, long passed me now. I will grieve for the fact that when I tell my future children about Robin Williams, it will be in the past tense. That when I tell them about Robin Williams, I will have to say, “He was a man who clearly loved to make people laugh. He was a man who was the best at making people laugh and, from what I’m told, he was a beautiful, gentle human being as well.”

We need more of those.

As his daughter, Zelda, commented, “the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence. We’ll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again.”

We must, then,  work twice as hard. As I see it, we don’t have a choice.

Once, when a guest on Inside the Actor’s Theater, James Lipton asked Robin, “ If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?” He said he’d accept God telling him a joke, just so that he’d know that, if heaven is real, there’s laughter there.

I am not without hope. In The Dead Poets Society, Robin quotes Whitman to his students, saying, “That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

I keep coming back to that question – what will your verse be? What indeed?

I think the legacy of Robin Williams is that we should all make an effort every day to make someone’s day a little brighter for having crossed our paths. May we use humor to light the dark corners. May we use compassion to heal wounds. May we have the courage to reach out to our fellows and say to them, “You are not alone.”

Let compassion, whatever else, be the tone of our verse.

I wish him peace. Above all, perhaps, I wish him the same kind of joy he brought to so many of us – an eternity filled with belly-clutching laughter and a knowledge that, somehow in the end, everything is going to be okay.

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Comments:

  1. This made me tear up. I have been trying to figure out exactly why I’m so upset about Robin Williams’ death, and I think you put it into words for me. Part of it is that, while I didn’t know him personally, I’m one of those 90s kids who grew up watching his movies. He’s always been one of my favorite actors. I think the rest of why I’m so upset is that I can totally relate to this: “His cup overflowed with the capacity to give laughter and yet, it seems, his brain would not let him partake.” My brain does not always let me fully participate in my merrymaking. Mental illness steals so much from so many of us. It’s not fair.

    • Thanks for your comment, Katy. I’ve been really struggling with this all week. It helps in a weird way to know that we’re not alone. Lots of love to you.

  2. Beautifully said.

  3. This is beautiful. I don’t know what else to say other than that.

    • Thank you, Karen. I haven’t been able to comment on your tribute yet. As they say, you really “kicked me in the feels.” Well done, well written.

  4. A great post

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