Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why I cried over Robin Williams

I grew up watching loads of television and movies. The Huxtables, the Simpsons, and the Keatons: my extended family. Do you know how much I cried when Alex's friend died on Family Ties? Or how often I hid in the back room of the house to listen to The Simpsons Sing the Blues on cassette and wondered what it might feel like to say all those bad things myself? Or how much I looked up to Clair Huxtable for being beautiful because of her strength and because she told life like it was? From the time we're small, characters--made-up people in made-up situations--become a part of us, good or bad. They affect our perceptions, our opinions, our dreams. They make us feel. They make us think. They become part of the story of our own lives.

As adults, we grow to enjoy being moved by a story. We like remembering, in the pure, concentrated form a live-action performance can deliver, the important things in life, like bravery and family and hope--the stuff we sometimes forget when we're working full-time and stressing about relationships and worrying about getting old. Stories remain an escape. And we credit actors for portraying characters well, for touching our hearts or shaking our sensibilities or making us aware. We give them awards, rounds of applause. We pay them to be good at what they do. We recognize how much skill they have or don't have. And if they manage all of that well, if they seem like people we'd like to have a drink with or a chat with or someone we'd like to have as a friend, we begin to respect them. Expect things of them. Look up to them. And yet--somehow they're still not quite real, because their lives, including the roles they play, become a bigger story to us. Will they marry? Will they divorce? Will their kids become actors too? Will they keep that hideous haircut forever? Will we hear they've gotten into drugs? Will they get old and out of touch or stay relevant? Will they get through the rough patches? Will they have a happy ending?

I didn't know Robin Williams personally. I wasn't his number one fan. I haven't seen all his movies. I didn't like all the ones I saw. But he's played many characters in the tapestry of my life. I can hear his voice in my head if I imagine it and feel his energy and remember getting nervous watching him because he seemed so close to losing control of the act and missing a step--because I couldn't keep up and couldn't see where he was going till he was already gone. Everyone's been saying how quickly his mind worked and how he was so clever and irreverent and had his very own brand of comedy and was genuinely a sweet guy. We're meant to celebrate his life now because he added things to ours just by being who he was, and we're to look back at his work and applaud his talent. And I want to do that because I'm sure he deserves it, and he does deserve it. He made me laugh and I did nothing in return. It's just that...the story didn't end right. There was supposed to be soft lighting in a room with the sun setting outside and a gentle breeze blowing the curtains, and he was to be there, backed by a symphony quietly playing in the background, saying something funny but with such wisdom, then slipping peacefully into a death that seemed a fitting ending to a happy, successful life. Isn't that how everyone's life is supposed to end? Isn't that what the stories tell us? What we're to hope for and expect? But no. That's not it at all. The stories have never been what we're to expect--they're the escape from what we know good and well does happen in real life. Everyone doesn't shake hands at the end. The bad guy is never just a bad guy. True love's kiss doesn't always wake the sleeping princess. In truth, life can be hard and heartbreaking and downright shitty.

Do you know how lonely a person is when he commits suicide? He's as lonely as you can possibly become. I was telling a friend that hell, if there is such a place, can't be torture because torture means you count enough to be punished and torture forces you to feel something. Hell is feeling completely alone and completely blank. Your heart may be beating, but to you, it's no more than the ticking of a box inside a robot. Suicide is the end of a road someone imagines to be real in their minds, a road that, when they look back on it just before the end, though it isn't, looks to them completely empty of hope or promise, making the undiscovered country seem the only desirable option. We look at this man, and those we've personally known and lost this way, and think in desperation, "I would have listened. I would have carried everything for you if I could!" And we would have. All of us would have, if given the opportunity. We could share the weight amongst us easily, couldn't we? It just doesn't work that way in the mind of the one who's alone. Something simply...shuts down, and that shutting down overwhelms them so that sometimes, before we can grab hold of their hand, we lose them.

So, yes, I celebrate Robin Williams. I celebrate his work, his personality, his attitude, his insights. He was brilliant. I celebrate him as a human soul who tried and, for a while, blazed through this existence beautifully. But I'd rather take all that beauty and energy and personality and bottle it up into some sort of magic that would blast a message down those empty roads to all who feel like robots with faintly ticking hearts:

"Your mind is playing tricks on you. Hold on. Hold On. You are not alone."