Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Powerful Play Goes On

By now, I'm sure everyone knows Robin Williams took his own life on Monday. There's so much to unpack about his death.

I never really understood anxiety and depression until I experienced it firsthand. I could never comprehend suicide. I would always say, "Why wouldn't a suicidal person just pack up and move to Mexico? Live on a beach? Get into extreme sports? Climb Mt. Everest? Why not do a bunch of fun, crazy stuff that, if it killed you, well, no biggie, because you were going to kill yourself anyway?" I was ignorant, of course, and I see that now. A few years ago, during the height of my anxiety issues, I remember saying to a friend, "I can't imagine living like this for the next 5, 10, 20, 40 years." Short bursts of anxiety, sure. But not long-term. Not forever. Then, after I was feeling better, I delivered my infamous "I'd move to Mexico if I were suicidal" line to that same friend, and he replied, "Um, wait a second. Didn't you say a couple of years ago that you couldn't imagine living with your extreme anxiety issues long-term?"

A light bulb switched on over my head and I finally understood (as much as anyone who hasn't seriously considered suicide can understand). There is still so much ignorance out there about depression and suicide. I saw the tweets yesterday of people calling Williams "a quitter who didn't deserve sympathy because he took the easy way out." But awareness is being raised, and hopefully Williams' death can save someone else. Or lots of someone elses. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Please use it.

Second, Robin Williams' death was a punch to the gut. He was one of the actors (and comedians) I grew up idolizing. From Mork and Mindy to his dozens of amazing movies, I grew up watching Williams on screens big and small. I obviously never met him, but some celebrities feel like part of your family because their music, or movies, or writing have inspired you and helped shape your life.

Yes, Robin Williams was a goofball comedian. Sometimes his comedic energy was exhausting during interviews. But he was also brilliant. His bit about the invention of golf is still one of the funniest things I've ever heard. And he was an amazing actor. Stories affect me deeply. Books, movies, and even great television shows—my soul craves them. I've grown as a person because of great stories. I've changed my life in significant ways because of great stories. Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting weren't just great movies—they have helped make me who I am. I'd need to borrow your fingers and toes to count how many times I've watched Robin Williams talking to Matt Damon on that park bench by the lake in Good Will Hunting or gathering his class in a circle to ask what their verse will be in Dead Poets Society.

"You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world."  I can recite that Dead Poets Society line from memory because it's part of what inspires me to write. I want to change the world, and my magic wand is this keyboard.

One of his best performances (that rarely gets discussed) was Insomnia, a film based on the book by Stephen King. In it, Williams delivers a line that I still think about whenever someone dies far too young:

"Life is so important; how can it be so fucking fragile?"


Rest In Peace, My Captain.

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