“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams
There have been so many posts about Robin Williams’ passing over the last few days, and I’m a little late in putting my thoughts to virtual paper. It has taken time to process all of the emotions that this has stirred in my soul. I don’t think any of us expect certain things, like this, to affect us as personally as they do.
My blog is typically about photography and all things related to the art of creating images, but the death of Robin Williams hurt me to the core.
Why? Did I know him personally?
Did I know his family or friends?
So why does it matter to me? Why even write about it?
The first, which I’ll discuss a little later in this post, is that I am deeply concerned with the stigma attached to mental health issues and depression.
The second, and less altruistic, reason is that Robin Williams was a piece of my childhood, lost. He was an artistic genius who helped shape my view of art early on in life, and who was unequivocally my favorite actor throughout my teenage years, and throughout my life. Knowing that he’s gone is knowing that we’re losing some of the lightness and inspiration in the artistic world. With his passing, the news shows report after report where he went out of his way to cheer someone suffering a fatal illness, or visit with someone who needed to know that they mattered to the world. He inspires us now to move outside our comfort zone and help bring light to others.
I also loved that he lived his art unafraid – no fear of embarrassment or “looking silly” – just life, unedited. When was the last time you just let go, and danced with your kids in the kitchen to music – no worries about how you look or if you can dance? Trust me, your 4-year-old won’t care whether you have two left feet – he’ll just be glad for the moment and memory.
Robin Williams was known for his comedic genius, yet he had an amazing ability to transform a dramatic script and unlock emotions. Two of my favorite movies (“Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting”) are evidence that he crossed imaginary boundaries and moved through comedy and drama with ease. The depth of movies like DPS challenged my view of education and society, and created a space for many of us to consider the gray area between rules and rebellion.
“But only in their dreams can men be truly free. It was always thus and always thus will be.” – Robin Williams – Dead Poet’s Society
It is not lost on me that the heart-breaking piece of DPS centers on suicide, and that Robin Williams’ took his own life. Many suicide experts have expressed concern at the viral tweet of “Genie, you’re free” (@TheAcademy). Should we be concerned at the message this is sending to others? My personal view is that this tweet is a recognition of the pain that depression can bring to a person – no matter how famous, how rich, or how well-loved. It’s a recognition that depression feels like a cage on the heart and the soul, and it’s a little nod to one of the actor’s most well-known movies. To me, referring to suicide as “a permanent solution to a temporary problem” (as has been commented and blogged world-wide) is a more concerning sentiment. For those suffering from depression, there is nothing that feels temporary. The weight of the struggle feels very real, very every-single-day, and very painful. To call it “temporary” makes light of the person’s daily fight to stay above water.
Outside looking in? Sure, it looks temporary. Inside looking out? Not so much. Instead of perpetuating the stigma of depression … instead of brushing off suicide as “an easy way out” or a “cowardly act” … instead of tormenting his daughter on twitter and social media, maybe we should use our time in a more constructive way. We teach our children not to bully each other in the schools and on the playgrounds, yet as adults, how is it acceptable to do the same through the shroud of the internet? Perhaps in stepping out from behind the computer, and spending time face-to-face with our neighbors, friends, and family, we can not only learn more about what they are experiencing – and be a shoulder to cry on when it’s needed – we can also rest our society-weary souls. Perhaps we can take a moment to alleviate the weight on someone’s shoulders – like the mother who lives next to you, and is suffering silently from postpartum depression … or the teenager who lives down the street and has contemplated running away or taking his own life more times than he can count. Yes, they walk through the grocery store or school with a smile and a nod, but you don’t know how much energy it took them to create that smile and mask the feelings that are bubbling through their heart.
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa
Robin Williams’ death is a true testament to the fact that you can have the world at your fingertips, yet still not be able to shake the sadness and despair inside. He spent his life creating magic that resulted in thought, laughter, and love – yet lost the ultimate fight for his own happiness and life. What can we do to honor someone so creative, so imaginative, so unique?
O captain…my captain. I hope you can see each of us standing on our desks. Your incredible “spark of madness” will truly be missed.