Reflections on Robin Williams

I grew up on Robin Williams. From Mork and Mindy to August Rush, from Garp to Mrs. Doubtfire.

When I’d heard of his death, I was, at first, shocked, and then it began to sink in and become not-so-shocking that such a man might have grown weary of trying to live, not only with his own demons, but certain demons peculiar to most of U.S. society—the ones that take themselves way too seriously, the ones that forever are falling into the trap of comparison thinking, whether they compare someone with a different someone, or someone with a previous version of him- or herself.

What made Williams remarkable, at least to me, was his ability to see the anima/animus—the world soul—in everything. And he didn’t have to force it the way you might if you are “consciously breathing.” In this way, he seemed to have seen/felt all the connections between everything, nonlocality, physicists might call it. Only if you can grant Donald Trump’s hair an aliveness all its own can you begin to poke fun at it. The same with things like alimony (“all the money”) or various forms of heart valves—porcine, bovine, etc.

Dead Poets Society fell on the fertile ground of my life at the time. Who was I going to be? And what? What sort of person?DeadPoetsSoc

I’d had parts of “John Keating” in my own scholastic life, but seeing those parts—and those teachers who were to come, in various guises, not necessarily at the head of a classroom—blended together in the character Williams played made me want to stretch ever deeper.

I can’t but wonder at the sad irony of this—that such a human could make many of his fellow humans stretch through his portrayal of Keating, but that he maybe could not do it for himself. Then again, I’m not sure any of us can—do it for ourselves, despite all the self-help books, all the motivational programs, all the classes. We may need a teacher, and when we are ready, perhaps the teacher appears.

At some point, if we are to evolve individually first, then collectively as a result of each person’s depth work, we need to step outside of the often self-imposed busy stream and take time for ourselves, just to be with ourselves and to explore that vast inner terrain. It can be more terrifying than any horror show, to feel out those places. To go back to earlier traumas and give love to the earlier selves, the selves we deny or refuse to look at, at the expense of our personal and collective well being.

An Eastern Boxwood turtle I named Now. Perhaps Turtle is a good model from nature about the pace we need to adopt.

An Eastern Boxwood turtle I named Now. Perhaps Turtle is a good model from nature about the pace and attitude toward life we need to adopt.

I can fathom the depth of pain that Robin Williams was in. I think anyone can who’s ever thought of ending his or her own life. All the shrinks will say that’s abnormal—to want to die—but I disagree. Until a person really can look herself in the mirror, gaze into her eyes, and with all sincerity and honesty say, “I love you,” then any of life’s buffeting winds, and mostly the stories we create about those winds, will have the ability to pull us under.

If you really love something, you want to do all you can to support it. Not imbue it with “You’re a worthless piece of shit,” or “You’re not enough—and you never will be.” You take care of what you love. You connect with it on a daily, even second-by-second, basis. You gaze upon it as you would a child, for, as one of my teachers says, “What is there not to love about a child?”

And when you hear those voices that point to some seeming lack, you ask yourself, “Is that really true?” You develop the habit of questioning those voices and then adopt the habit of saying, Thank you, I’m fine. You can go now. You don’t doubt for a minute your perception of such voices, but you do, as Stephen Harrod Buhner suggests, question your interpretation of them.

I hope Robin Williams finds the peace he was seeking. I hope he knows what a treasure he was. I am only sorry that he could not treasure himself.





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