Freeing the Genie: Savoring the Sparks of Madness

“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?

Two reasons:

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?

The news reports now center around the “why” – why would he take his own life? Those reasons are his and his alone, and all the speculation in the world won’t give a daughter back her father.
What matters is that a life is lost, and that the world felt too insurmountable for a soul. What matters is how we react and move forward, making good out of the bad and letting his legacy become a change that starts with each one of us – starting with savoring our own little sparks of madness. Keeping them close to our hearts, motivating our lives with that fire within to become, to create, to live a life less ordinary.
How else? By doing that which is very ordinary, but seemingly lost in today’s rush-filled world – loving our family, our friends, and our neighbors, and freeing the genie of a silenced soul. By opening the discussion on suicide and depression in our own communities, and allowing others to share their struggles without fear of repercussion or judgement.
As a parent, it strikes my heart that I must continuously remember that we are shaping little souls for their future in this world. We are helping them create not only a world view but also a “me view” – how they see themselves, what they value, and what they don’t.
Does your daughter with crazy curly hair and glasses know that you think she is beautiful? (I can tell you from experience, these are two beauty traits that are not typically valued in every day high school.) Does your daughter know that you think she’s wicked smart and can solve a problem faster than you can even finish reading it? Does your son know that you love every invention he creates (no matter if it leaks all over the table and doesn’t quite work yet)? Does your son know that you think whomever he marries will be incredibly lucky to have such a bright soul in their life – one who inspires laughter and is as handsome as the day is long? Do your children know that they can become anything they want, and that all you want for them is to be happy? Do they know that everyone is made differently and that’s the amazing part about humanity – we are all individuals with our own characteristics and original thoughts? Do they value these things within themselves?
We must create a safe space in which they can explore their thoughts, feelings, and actions – and learn as they grow. If a child’s home and their parents are not their safe space, what will they seek out in the world to find that safety that our souls crave? There is no more soul-crushing, heart-breaking report on the news than that of a child who has no safe space and whose trust has been broken. I know that I am not the only mama who sheds tears for these children, and who is working in her tiny corner of the world to affect change.
Never forget that any change you wish to create in the world begins with you, in your tiny corner of the world. It can begin with a simple, heartfelt “How are you?” or “I’m sorry” today. It can begin with digging in the dirt and actually playing with your children and letting their imagination guide the journey. It can begin with simply not raising your voice in anger today.
It begins in each of our homes, every day and every night. Each day we wake up with a choice, and it is up to us to do the work set in front of us.
After all, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society

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.

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